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ON 

THE 

WAY 

TO 

LANGUAGE 

Martin Heidegger 



Harper 8c Row Editions of’ 

MARTIN HEIDEGGER 

Basic Writings 
Being and Time 
Discourse on Thinking 
Early Greek Thinking 
The End of Philosophy 
Hegel’s Concept of Experience 
Identity and Difference 
Nietzsche: Volume I, The Will to Power as Art 
Nietzsche: Volume IV, Nihilism 
On the Way to Language 
On Time and Being 
Poetry, Language, Thought 

The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays 

What Is Called Thinking? 




MARTIN HEIDEGGER 



ON THE WAY TO 
LANGUAGE 



Translated by Peter D. Hertz 



14 

PERENNIAL LIBRARY 

CEj 



Harper & Row, Publishers 
New York, Cambridge, Philadelphia, San Francisco 
London, Mexico City, S&o Paulo, Singapore, Sydney 



Originally published by Verlag Gunther Neske , Pfullingen, under the 
title Unterwegs zur Sprache, copyright 1959 by Verlag Gunther 
Neske. 



on the way to languace. Copyright © 1971 in the English transla- 
tion by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in 
the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or repro- 
duced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the 
case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For 
information address Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, 
New York, N.Y. 10022. Published simultaneously in Canada by Fitz- 
henry Cif Whiteside Limited, Toronto. 

First Harper & Row paperback edition published in 1982. 



Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data 

Heidegger, Martin, 1889-1976. 

On the way to language. 



Translation of: Unterwegs zur Sprache. 
Includes bibliographical references. 

1. Languages— Philosophy. I. Title. 



P106.H361 3 1982 401 77-124708 

ISBN 0-06-063859-1 (pbk.) AACR2 



88 89 90 



10 9 8 7 6 





CONTENTS 



A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 

57 

THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

1 1 1 

WORDS 

(Translated by Joan Stambaugh) 

*39 

LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 
A Discussion on Georg Trakl’s Poetic Work 

*59 

REFERENCES 

>99 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



between a Japanese and an Inquirer 



Japanese : You know Count Shuzo Kuki. He studied with you 
for a number of years. 

Inquirer: Count Kuki has a lasting place in my memory. 

J: He died too early. His teacher Nishida wrote his epitaph— 
for over a year he worked on this supreme tribute to his 
pupil. 

/: I am happy to have photographs of Kuki’s grave and of the 
giove in which it lies. 

/: Yes, 1 know the temple garden in Kyoto. Many of my friends 
often join me to visit the tomb there. The garden was estab- 
lished toward the end of the twelfth century by the priest 
Honen, on the eastern hill of what was then the Imperial 
city of Kyoto, as a place for reflection and deep meditation. 

/ : And so, that temple grove remains the fitting place for him 
who died early. 

J: All his reflection was devoted to what the Japanese call Iki. 



1 




2 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



I: In my dialogues with Kuki, I never had more than a distant 
inkling of what that word says. 

J: Later, after his return from Europe, Count Kuki gave lec- 
tures in Kyoto on the aesthetics of Japanese art and poetry. 
These lectures have come out as a book. In the book, he 
attempts to consider the nature of Japanese art with the 
help of European aesthetics. 

/: But in such an attempt, may we turn to aesthetics? 

J: Why not? 

I: The name “aesthetics’* and what it names grow out of 
European thinking, out of philosophy. Consequently, aes- 
thetic consideration must ultimately remain alien to East- 
asian thinking. 

J: You are right, no doubt. Yet we Japanese have to call on 
aesthetics to aid us. 

I: With what? 

/: Aesthetics furnishes us with the concepts to grasp what is of 
concern to us as art and poetry. 

I: Do you need concepts? 

]: Presumably yes, because since the encounter with European 
thinking, there has come to light a certain incapacity in our 
language. 

I: In what way? 

J: It lacks the delimiting power to represent objects related in 
an unequivocal order above and below each other. 

I: Do you seriously regard this incapacity as a deficiency of 
your language? 

J: Considering that the encounter of the Eastasian with the 
European world has become inescapable, your question cer- 
tainly calls for searching reflection. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



3 



1: Here you are touching on a controversial question which I 
often discussed with Count Kuki—the question whether it is 
necessary and rightful for Eastasians to chase after the 
European conceptual systems. 

J: In the face of modern technicalization and industrialization 
of every continent, there would seem to be no escape any 
longer. 

I: You speak cautiously, you say “. . . would seem . . .” 

J: Indeed. For the possibility still always remains that, seen 
from the point of view of our Eastasian existence, the tech- 
nical world which sweeps us along must confine itself to 
surface matters, and . . . that . . . 

I: ... that for this reason a true encounter with European 
existence is still not taking place, in spite of all assimila- 
tions and intermixtures. 

J: Perhaps cannot take place. 

I: Can we assert this so unconditionally? 

J: I would be the last to venture it, else I should not have come 
to Germany. But I have a constant sense of danger which 
Count Kuki, too, could obviously not overcome. 

/: What danger are you thinking of? 

J: That we will let ourselves be led astray by the wealth of 
concepts which the spirit of the European languages has in 
store, and will look down upon what claims our existence, 
as on something that is vague and amorphous. 

/: Yet a far greater danger threatens. It concerns both of us; it 
is all the more menacing just by being more inconspicuous. 

J: How? 

I: The danger is threatening from a region where we do not 
suspect it, and which is yet precisely the region where we 
would have to experience it. 




4 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

J: You have, then, experienced it already; otherwise you could 
not point it out. 

I: I am far from having experienced the danger to its full 
extent, but I have sensed it— in my dialogues with Count 
Kuki. 

J : Did you speak with him about it? 

/: No. The danger arose from the dialogues themselves, in that 
they were dialogues. 

J: I do not understand what you mean. 

I: Our dialogues were not formal, scholarly discussions. When- 
ever that sort of thing seemed to be taking place, as in the 
seminars, Count Kuki remained silent. The dialogues of 
which I am thinking came about at my house, like a spon- 
taneous game. Count Kuki occasionally brought his wife 
along who then wore festive Japanese garments. They made 
the Eastasian world more luminously present, and the dan- 
ger of our dialogues became more clearly visible. 

J: I still do not understand what you mean. 

I: The danger of our dialogues was hidden in language itself, 
not in what we discussed, nor in the way in which we tried 
to do so. 

J: But Count Kuki had uncommonly good command of Ger- 
man, and of French and English, did he not? 

I: Of course. He could say in European languages whatever 
was under discussion. But we were discussing Iki; and here 
it was / to whom the spirit of the Japanese language re- 
mained closed— as it is to this day. 

J : The languages of the dialogue shifted everything into 
European. 

I: Yet the dialogue tried to say the essential nature of East- 
asian art and poetry. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



5 



/: Now I am beginning to understand better where you smell 
the danger. The language of the dialogue constantly de- 
stroyed the possibility of saying what the dialogue was 
about. 

I: Some time ago I called language, clumsily enough, the 
house of Being. If man by virtue of his language dwells 
within the claim and call of Being, then we Europeans pre- 
sumably dwell in an entirely different house than Eastasian 
man. 

J: Assuming that the languages of the two are not merely dif- 
ferent but are other in nature, and radically so. 

/: And so, a dialogue from house to house remains nearly 
impossible. 

J: You are right to say “nearly/* For still it was a dialogue— 
and, I should think, an exciting one, because Count Kuki, 
in the workshops he held with us at Kyoto University, came 
back again and again to those dialogues with you. Most 
often it happened when we pressed him in our effort to 
understand more clearly the reason that had prompted him 
at that time to go to Germany to study with you. Your 
book Being and Time had then not yet been published. 
But after the First World War several Japanese profes- 
sors, among them our revered Professor Tanabe, went to 
Husserl, in Freiburg, to study phenomenology with him. 
That is how my compatriots came to know you in person. 

I: It was just as you said. In those days I, as Husserl’s assistant, 
regularly once a week read Husserl's first major work, the 
Logical Investigations , with the gentlemen from Japan. By 
that time the master himself no longer held his work in very 
high esteem; it had been published around the turn of the 
century. But I had my own reasons to prefer the Logical 
Investigations for the purposes of an introduction to phe- 
nomenology. And the master generously tolerated my choice. 

J: At the time— I believe it was in 1921— our professors attended 




6 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



a class you gave. They brought a transcript of it back to 
Japan. The title, if I am not mistaken, was “Expression and 
Appearance.” 

/: That, in any event, was the title of the course. Yet Professor 
Kuki must have had his special reasons for coming to me in 
Marburg. 

J: Indeed, and I believe these reasons trace back to that course 
whose transcript was also much discussed elsewhere in 
Japan. 

/: Transcripts are muddy sources, of course; what is more, the 
course w r as most imperfect. Yet there was quickening in it 
the attempt to walk a path of which I did not know where it 
would lead. I knew only the most immediate short-range 
perspectives along that path, because they beckoned to me 
unceasingly, while the horizon shifted and darkened more 
than once. 

J: My compatriots must indeed have sensed some of that. 
Again and again it was said that your questions circled 
around the problem of language and of Being. 

I: In fact, this was not too difficult to discern; for as early as 
1915, in the title of my dissertation “Duns Scotus* Doctrine 
of Categories and Theory of Meaning,” the two perspectives 
came into view: “doctrine of categories” is the usual name 
of the discussion of the Being of beings; “theory of mean- 
ing” means the grammatica speculatwa, the metaphysical 
reflection on language in its relation to Being. But all these 
relationships were then still unclear to me. 

J : Which is why you kept silent for twelve years. 

I: And I dedicated Being and Time, which appeared in 1927, 
to Husserl, because phenomenology presented us with possi- 
bilities of a wav. 

/ 

J : Still, it seems to me that the fundamental theme, “Language 
and Being,” stayed there in the background. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



7 



/: It did stay there even in the course you mentioned, of 1921. 
The same held true also of the question of poetry, and of 
art. In those days of expressionism, these realms were con- 
stantly before me— but even more, and already since my 
student days before the First World War, was the poetic 
work of Holderlin and Trakl. And still earlier, during my 
last years in the Gymnasium— to give a date, in the summer 
of 1907— I came up against the question of Being, in the 
dissertation of Husserl's teacher Franz Brentano. Its title is 
"On the manifold meaning of being according to Aristotle"; 
it dates from 1862. The book came to me as a gift from my 
fatherly friend and fellow Swabian, Dr. Conrad Grober, 
later to become archbishop of Freiburg. Then he was vicar 
of Trinity Church in Constance. 

J: Do you still have the book? 

I: Here it is for you to look at, and to read the inscription 
which runs: "My first guide through Greek philosophy in 
my Gymnasium days." I am telling you all this, but not in 
order to give the impression that I already knew then 
everything that I am still asking today. But perhaps there 
is confirmation here for you— who as professor of German 
literature love and know Holderlin’s work particularly 
well— of a phrase of that poet which begins in the fourth 
stanza of the hymn "The Rhine": . . For as you began, 

so you will remain." 

]: The quest of language and of Being is perhaps a gift of that 
light ray which fell on you. 

I: Who would have the audacity to claim that such a gift has 
come to him? I only know one thing: because reflection on 
language, and on Being, has determined my path of think- 
ing from early on, therefore their discussion has stayed as 
far as possible in the background. The fundamental flaw of 
the book Being and Time is perhaps that I ventured forth 
too far too early. 




8 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

J: That can hardly be said of your thoughts on language. 

I: True, less so, for it was all of twenty years after my doctoral 
dissertation that I dared discuss in a class the question of 
language. It was at that same time that I, in class, made 
public my first interpretations of Holderlin’s hymns. In the 
summer semester of 1934, I offered a lecture series under 
the title “Logic.” In fact, however, it was a reflection on 
the logos , in which I was trying to find the nature of lan- 
guage. Yet it took nearly another ten years before I was 
able to say what I was thinking— the fitting word is still 
lacking even today. The prospect of the thinking that labors 
to answer to the nature of language is still veiled, in all its 
vastness. This is why I do not yet see whether what I am 
trying to think of as the nature of language is also adequate 
for the nature of the Eastasian language; whether in the 
end— which would also be the beginning— a nature of lan- 
guage can reach the thinking experience, a nature which 
would offer the assurance that European-Western saying and 
Eastasian saying will enter into dialogue such that in it there 
sings something that wells up from a single source. 

J: But a source that would then still remain concealed from 
both language worlds. 

I: That is what I mean. This is why your visit is especially 
welcome to me. Since you have already translated into 
Japanese a few of Kleist’s plays, and some of my lectures on 
Holderlin, you have a keener ear for the questions that I 
addressed to your compatriots almost thirty-five years ago. 

J: You must not overestimate my abilities, especially since 1 , 
coming from J apanese poetry, still find it difficult to respond 
to European poetry in a way that does justice to its essen- 
tial nature. 

I: Even though the danger remains that is necessarily implied 
in our using the German language for our dialogue, I be- 
lieve that I have meanwhile learned a little more, so that 
now I can ask questions better than several decades ago. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 9 

J: At that time, my compatriots* dialogues with you after class 
were taking a different direction. 

/.* Therefore I now ask you: what prompted the Japanese 
professors, and later in particular Count Kuki, to give spe- 
cial attention to that transcript? 

J: I can report only of Kuki’s explanations. They never did 
become fully clear to me; for, in characterizing your man- 
ner of thinking, he often invoked the terms “hermeneutics** 
and “hermeneutic.** 

/: As far as I remember, I first used those words in a later 
course, in the summer of 1923. That was the time when I 
began my first drafts of Being and Time. 

J: In our judgment, Count Kuki did not succeed in explain- 
ing the terms satisfactorily, neither concerning the mean- 
ing of the word nor regarding the sense in which you were 
speaking of a hermeneutic phenomenology. Kuki merely 
stressed constantly that the term was to indicate a new 
direction of phenomenology. 

/: It may indeed have looked that way. In fact, however, I 
was concerned neither with a direction in phenomenology 
nor, indeed, with anything new. Quite the reverse, I was 
trying to think the nature of phenomenology in a more 
originary manner, so as to fit it in this way back into the 
place that is properly its own within Western philosophy. 

J: But why did you use the term “hermeneutic”? 

I: The answer is given in the Introduction to Being and Time 
(Section 7C, pp. 58 ff.). But I will gladly add a few remarks, 
to dispel the illusion that the use of the term is accidental. 

J: I recall that it was this illusion which caused objections. 

I: The term “hermeneutics** was familiar to me from my 
theological studies. At that time, I was particularly agitated 
over the question of the relation between the word of Holy 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



lO 

l 

Scripture and theological-speculative thinking. This rela- 
tion, between language and Being, was the same one, if you 
will, only it was veiled and inaccessible to me, so that 
through many deviations and false starts I sought in vain 
for a guiding thread. 

J: I know too little of Christian theology to comprehend what 
you refer to. But it is obvious that through your back- 
ground and your studies you are at home in theology in a 
manner totally different from those who come from out- 
side and merely pick up through reading a few things that 
belong in that area. 

/: Without this theological background I should never have 
come upon the path of thinking. But origin always comes 
to meet us from the future. 

J: If the two call to each other, and reflection makes its home 
within that calling . . . 

/: . . . and thus becomes true presence.— Later on, I met the 
term “hermeneutic” again in Wilhelm Dilthey, in his theory 
of the History of Ideas. Dilthey’s familiarity with herme- 
neutics came from that same source, his theological studies 
and especially his work on Schleiermacher. 

J: As far as I am informed by philology, hermeneutics is a 
science that deals with the goals, ways, and rules of the 
interpretation of literary works. 

I: It developed first and formatively in conjunction with the 
interpretation of the Book of books, the Bible. There is a 
lecture by Schleiermacher that was published posthumously 
from his manuscripts under the title “Hermeneutics and 
Criticism, with special reference to the New Testament” 
(1838). I have it here, and shall read you the first two 
sentences from the “General Introduction”: 

Hermeneutics and criticism, both philological disciplines, both 
methodologies, belong together, because the practice of each 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



11 



presupposes the other. The first is in general the art of under- 
standing rightly another man's language, particularly his 
written language; the second, the art of judging rightly the 
genuineness of written works and passages, and to establish it on 
the strength of adequate evidence and data. 

J: Accordingly, the word “hermeneutics/* broadened in the 
appropriate sense, can mean the theory and methodology 
for every kind of interpretation, including, for example, 
that of works of the visual arts. 

I: Quite. 

J: Do you use the term in this broad sense? 

I: If I may stay within the style of your question, I have to 
answer: In Being and Time, the term “hermeneutics” is 
used in a still broader sense, “broader" here meaning, how- 
ever, not the mere extension of the same meaning over a 
still larger area of appplication. “Broader" is to say: in 
keeping with that vastness which springs from originary 
being. In Being and Time, hermeneutics means neither the 
theory of the art of interpretation nor interpretation itself, 
but rather the attempt first of all to define the nature of 
interpretation on hermeneutic grounds. 

J : But what does “hermeneutic" mean then? I do not have 
the audacity to yield to the suspicion which here suggests 
itself, that you are now using the word “hermeneutic" will- 
fully. Be that as it may, what matters to me is to hear from 
your own lips an— if I may say so— authentic explanation 
of your use of the word; otherwise it will still not become 
clear what moved Count Kuki’s reflections. 

I: I shall be glad to do as you ask. Only, do not expect too 
much. For the matter is enigmatic, and perhaps we are not 
dealing with a matter at all. 

J: Perhaps rather with a process. 

I: Or with what-is-the-case. But such terms will quickly land 
us in inadequacies. 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



.« \(f T\ 

J: But only if we already somehow have in view what our 
saying would want to reach. 

I: It can hardly have escaped you that in my later writings 
I no longer employ the term “hermeneutics.” 

J: You are said to have changed your standpoint. 

I: I have left an earlier standpoint, not in order to exchange 
it. for another one, but because even the former standpoint 
was merely a way-station along a way. The lasting element 
in thinking is the way. And ways of thinking hold within 
them that mysterious quality that we can walk them for- 
ward and backward, and that indeed only the way back 
will lead us forward. 

J: Obviously you do not mean “forward” in the sense of an 
advance, but ... I have difficulty in finding the right word. 

I: “Fore”— into that nearest nearness which we constantly 
rush ahead of, and which strikes us as strange each time 
anew when we catch sight of it. 

J: And which we therefore quickly dismiss again from view, 
to stay instead with what is familiar and profitable. 

/.• While the nearness which we constantly overtake would 
rather bring us back. 

J: Back— yes, but back where? 

I: Into what is beginning. 

J: I find this difficult to understand, if I am to think in terms 
of what you have said about it in your writings up to now. 

/: Even so, you have already pointed to it, when you spoke 
of the presence that springs from the mutual calling of 
origin and future. 

J: As you may have surmised, I see more clearly as soon as 
I think in terms of our Japanese experience. But I am not 
certain whether you have your eye on the same. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



*3 



/: That could prove itself in our dialogue. 

J: We Japanese do not think it strange if a dialogue leaves 
undefined what is really intended, or even restores it back 
to the keeping of the undefinable. 

/: That is part, I believe, of every dialogue that has turned 
out well between thinking beings. As if of its own accord, 
it can take care that that undefinable something not only 
does not slip away, but displays its gathering force ever 
more luminously in the course of the dialogue. 

J: Our dialogues with Count Kuki probably failed to turn out 
so well. We younger men challenged him much too directly 
to satisfy our thirst for handy information. 

I: Thirst for knowledge and greed for explanations never lead 
to a thinking inquiry. Curiosity is always the concealed 
arrogance of a self-consciousness that banks on a self- 
invented ratio and its rationality. The will to know does 
not will to abide in hope before what is worthy of thought. 

J : Thus we wanted to know in fact only how European 
aesthetics might be suitable to give a higher clarity to what 
endows our art and poetry with their nature. 

/: And that would be? 

J: We have for it the name I mentioned earlier: lki. 

I: How often did I hear that word on Kuki’s lips, yet without 
experiencing what is said in it. 

J: Meanwhile, what you mean to say with hermeneutics must 
somehow have illuminated lki more brightly for Count 
Kuki. 

I: I sensed as much, but never could follow him in his insights. 

J: You have already mentioned what prevented you: the lan- 
guage of the dialogue was European; but what was to be 
experienced and to be thought was the Eastasian nature 
of Japanese art. 




14 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

/: Whatever we spoke about was from the start forced over 
into the sphere of European ideas. 

]: What made you aware of that? 

I: The manner in which Kuki explained the basic word Iki. 
He spoke of sensuous radiance through whose lively delight 
there breaks the radiance of something suprasensuous. 

/: With that explanation, I believe, Kuki has hit on what we 
experience in Japanese art. 

I: Your experience, then, moves within the difference between 
a sensuous and a suprasensuous world. This is the distinc- 
tion on which rests what has long been called Western 
metaphysics. 

J: With this reference to the distinction that pervades meta- 
physics, you now touch the source of that danger of which 
we spoke. Our thinking, if I am allowed to call it that, does 
know something similar to the metaphysical distinction; 
but even so, the distinction itself and what it distinguishes 
cannot be comprehended with Western metaphysical con- 
cepts. We say /ro, that is, color, and say Ku, that is, empti- 
ness, the open, the sky. We say: without Iro, no Ku. 

I: This seems to correspond exactly to what Western, that is 
to say, metaphysical doctrine says about art when it repre- 
sents art aesthetically. The aistheton, what can be perceived 
by the senses, lets the noeton, the nonsensuous, shine 
through. 

J: Now you will understand how great the temptation was for 
Kuki to define Iki with the help of European aesthetics, 
that is, as you pointed out, define it metaphysically. 

I: Even greater was and still is my fear that in this way the real 
nature of Eastasian art is obscured and shunted into a 
realm that is inappropriate to it. 

J: I fully share your fear; for while Iro does indeed name 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



*5 



color, it yet means essentially more than whatever is per- 
ceptible by the senses. Ku does indeed name emptiness and 
the open, and yet it means essentially more than that which 
is merely suprasensuous. 

I: Your suggestions, which I can follow only from afar, in- 
crease my uneasiness. Even greater than the fear I men- 
tioned is the expectation within me that our conversation, 
which has grown out of our memory of Count Kuki, could 
turn out well. 

J: You mean it could bring us nearer to what is unsaid? 

I: That alone would give us an abundance to think on. 

/: Why do you say “would"? 

I: Because I now see still more clearly the danger that the 
language of our dialogue might constantly destroy the possi- 
bility of saying that of which we are speaking. 

J: Because this language itself rests on the metaphysical dis- 
tinction between the sensuous and the suprasensuous, in 
that the structure of the language is supported by the basic 
elements of sound and script on the one hand, and sig- 
nification and sense on the other. 

/: At least within the purview of European ideas. Or is the 
situation the same with you? 

J: Hardly. But, as I indicated, the temptation is great to rely 
on European ways of representation and their concepts. 

/: That temptation is reinforced by a process which I would 
call the complete Europeanization of the earth and of man. 

J: Many people consider this process the triumphal march of 
reason. At the end of the eighteenth century, in the French 
Revolution, was not reason proclaimed a goddess? 

I: Indeed. The idolization of that divinity is in fact carried 
so far that any thinking which rejects the claim of reason 
as not originary, simply has to be maligned today as 
unreason. 




i6 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



J: The incontestable dominance of your European reason is 
thought to be confirmed by the successes of that rationality 
which technical advances set before us at every turn. 

I: This delusion is growing, so that we are no longer able to 
see how the Europeanization of man and of the earth attacks 
at the source everything that is of an essential nature. It 
seems that these sources are to dry up. 

J : A striking example for what you have in mind is the inter- 
nationally known film Rashotnon. Perhaps you have seen it. 

/: Fortunately yes; unfortunately, only once. I believed that I 
was experiencing the enchantment of the Japanese world, 
the enchantment that carries us away into the mysterious. 
And so I do not understand why you offer just this film as 
an example of an all-consuming Europeanization. 

J: We Japanese consider the presentation frequently too real- 
istic, for example in the dueling scenes. 

/: But are there not also subdued gestures? 

J: Inconspicuities of this kind flow abundantly and hardly 
noticeable to a European observer. I recall a hand resting 
on another person, in which there is concentrated a contact 
that remains infinitely remote from any touch, something 
that may not even be called gesture any longer in the sense 
in which I understand your usage. For this hand is suffused 
and borne by a call calling from afar and calling still 
farther onward, because stillness has brought it. 

1 : But in view of such gestures, which differ from our gestures, 
I fail even more to understand how you can mention this 
film as an example of Europeanization. 

/: Indeed it cannot be understood, because I am still express- 
ing myself inadequately. And yet, for an adequate expres- 
sion I need precisely your language. 

I: And at this point you do not heed the danger? 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 17 

J : Perhaps it can be banished for a few moments. 

I: As long as you speak of realism, you are talking the lan- 
guage of metaphysics, and move within the distinction be- 
tween the real as sensuous, and the ideal as nonsensuous. 

J: You are right. However, with my reference to realism, I did 
not mean so much the massiveness of presentation which is 
scattered here and there throughout the film, and which 
remains unavoidable, in any event, in consideration of the 
non-Japanese audience. 

Ultimately, I did mean something else altogether with 
my reference to realism in the film— this, that the Japanese 
world is captured and imprisoned at all in the objectness 
of photography, and is in fact especially framed for 
photography. 

/: If I have listened rightly, you would say that the Eastasian 
world, and the technical-aesthetic product of the film in- 
dustry, are incompatible. 

J: This is what I have in mind. Regardless of what the aes- 
thetic quality of a Japanese film may turn out to be, the 
mere fact that our world is set forth in the frame of a film 
forces that world into the sphere of what you call object- 
ness. The photographic objectification is already a con- 
sequence of the ever wider outreach of Europeanization. 

I: A European will find it difficult to understand what you 
mean. 

]: Certainly, and especially because the foreground world of 
Japan is altogether European or, if you will, American. 
The background world of Japan, on the other hand, or 
better, that world itself, is what you experience in the 
No play. 

/ : I know only a book about the .Yo-play. 

I : Which, may I ask? 

I : Beni’s Academy treatise. 




i8 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



]: In Japan, it is considered an extremely thorough piece of 
work, and by far the best thing you can read on the No-play. 

/: But reading alone is hardly enough. 

J: You would need to attend such plays. But even that re- 
mains hard as long as you are unable to live within Japanese 
existence. To allow you to see, even if only from afar, some- 
thing of what the No-play defines, I would assist you with 
one remark. You know that the Japanese stage is empty. 

/: That emptiness demands uncommon concentration. 

/: Thanks to that concentration, only a slight additional ges- 
ture on the actor’s part is required to cause mighty things 
to appear out of a strange stillness. 

I: How am I to understand you? 

J: For instance, if a mountain landscape, is to appear, the 
actor slowly raises his open hand and holds it quietly above 
his eyes at eyebrow level. May I show you? 

I: Please do. 

(The Japanese raises and holds his hand as described.) 

I: That is indeed a gesture with which a European will hardly 
be content. 

J: With it all, the gesture subsists less in the visible movement 
of the hand, nor primarily in the stance of the body. The 
essence of what your language calls “gesture” is hard to say. 

I: And yet, the word “gesture” helps us experience truly what 
is here to be said. 

J: Ultimately, it coincides with what I have in mind. 

I: Gesture is the gathering of a bearing. 

J: No doubt you intentionally avoid saying: our bearing. 

I: Because what truly bears, only bears itself toward us . . . 

J: ... though we bear only our share to its encounter. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE ig 

I: While that which bears itself toward us has already borne 
our counterbearing into the gift it bears for us. 

J: Thus you call bearing or gesture: the gathering which orig- 
inarily unites within itself what we bear to it and what it 
bears to us. 

I: However, with this formulation we still run the risk that 
we understand the gathering as a subsequent union . . . 

/: . . . instead of experiencing that all bearing, in giving and 
encounter, springs first and only from the gathering. 

I: If we were to succeed in thinking of gesture in this sense, 
where would you then look for the essence of that gesture 
which you showed me? 

J : In a beholding that is itself invisible, and that, so gathered, 
bears itself to encounter emptiness in such a way that in and 
through it the mountains appear. 

/: That emptiness then is the same as nothingness, that essen- 
tial being which we attempt to add in our thinking, as the 
other, to all that is present and absent. 

J: Surely. For this reason we in Japan understood at once 
your lecture “What is Metaphysics?” when it became avail- 
able to us in 1930 through a translation which a Japanese 
student, then attending your lectures, had ventured. —We 
marvel to this day how the Europeans could lapse into 
interpreting as nihilistic the nothingness of which you 
speak in that lecture. To us, emptiness is the loftiest name 
for what you mean to say with the word “Being” . . . 

I: ... in a thinking attempt whose first steps are unavoidable 
even to this day. It did, however, become the occasion for 
very great confusion, a confusion grounded in the matter 
itself and linked with the use of the name “Being.” For 
this name belongs, after all, to the patrimony of the lan- 
guage of metaphysics, while I put that word into a title 




20 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



of an essay which brings out the essence of metaphysics, and 
only thus brings metaphysics back within its own limits. 

]: When you speak of overcoming metaphysics, this is what 
you have in mind. 

I: This only; neither a destruction nor even a denial of meta- 
physics. To intend anything else would be childish pre- 
sumption and a demeaning of history. 

J: To us, at a distance, it had always seemed amazing that 
people never tired of imputing to you a negative attitude 
toward the history of previous thinking, while in fact you 
strive only for an original appropriation. 

I: Whose success can and should be disputed. 

J: The fact that this dispute has not yet got onto the right 
track is owing— among many other motives— in the main to 
the confusion that your ambiguous use of the word “Being” 
has created. 

I: You are right: only, the insidious thing is that the confu- 
sion which has been occasioned is afterward ascribed to my 
own thinking attempt, an attempt which on its own way 
knows with full clarity the difference between “Being” as 
“the Beings of beings,” and “Being” as “Being” in respect 
of its proper sense, that is, in respect of its truth (the 
clearing). 

J: Why did you not surrender the word “Being” immediately 
and resolutely to the exclusive use of the language of meta- 
physics? Why did you not at once give its own name to 
what you were searching for, by way of the nature of Time, 
as the “sense of Being”? 

I: How is one to give a name to what he is still searching 
for? To assign the naming word is, after all, what consti- 
tutes finding. 

J: Then the confusion that has arisen must be endured. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



21 



I: Indeed, perhaps for long, and perhaps only in this way, that 
we painstakingly labor to unravel it. 

J : Only this will lead us out into the open. 

/: But the way there cannot be staked out according to a plan, 
like a road. Thinking is fond of a manner of road-building 
that is, I would almost say, wondrous. 

J: A manner in which the builders must at times return to 
construction sites they left behind, or go back even further. 

I: I am amazed by your insight into the nature of the paths of 
thinking. 

J : We have rich experience in the matter; only it has not 
been reduced to the form of a conceptual methodology, 
which destroys every moving force of the thinking steps. 
Besides, you yourself have caused me to see the path of your 
thinking more clearly. 

/: How? 

J: Lately, even though you employ the word “Being” spar- 
ingly, you yet have used the name once again in a context 
which does in fact come home to me more and more closely 
as what is most essential in your thinking. In your “Letter 
on Humanism” you characterize language as the “house of 
Being”; today, at the beginning of our dialogue, you re- 
ferred to this phrase yourself. And while I am recalling it, 
I must consider that our dialogue has strayed far from its 
path. 

I: So it appears. In truth, however, we are only about to get 
onto that path. 

J: At the moment, I do not see it. We were trying to speak 
about Kuki's aesthetic interpretation of Iki. 

I : We were trying, and in the process could not avoid consid- 
ering the danger of such dialogues. 

J: We recognized that the danger lies in the concealed nature 
of language. 




22 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



I: And just now you mentioned the phrase “house of Being/* 
which would suggest the essence of language. 

J : Thus we have indeed stayed on the path of the dialogue. 

I: Probably only because we, without quite knowing it, were 
obedient to what alone, according to your words, allows a 
dialogue to succeed. 

/: It is that undefined defining something . . . 

I: ... which we leave in unimpaired possession of the voice of 
its promptings. 

J: At the risk that this voice, in our case, is silence itself. 

I: What are you thinking of now? 

J: Of the Same as you have in mind, of the nature of language. 

I: That is what is defining our dialogue. But even so we 
must not touch it. 

/: Surely not, if by touching you mean grasping it in the sense 
of your European conceptualizations. 

/: No, those conceptualizations are not what I have in mind. 
Even the phrase “house of Being” does not provide a con- 
cept of the nature of language, to the great sorrow of the 
philosophers who in their disgruntlement see in such 
phrases no more than a decay of thinking. 

J: I, too, find much food for thought in your phrase “house of 
Being**— but on different grounds. I feel that it touches 
upon the nature of language without doing it injury. For if 
it is necessary to leave the defining something in full posses- 
sion of its voice, this does in no way mean that our thinking 
should not pursue the nature of language. Only the manner 
in which the attempt is made is decisive. 

I: And so I now take courage to ask a question which has 
long troubled me, and which your visit now almost compels 
me to ask. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



23 



J: Do not count too heavily on my powers to follow your 
questions. Our dialogue, meanwhile, has anyhow made me 
much more aware of how un-thought everything still is that 
concerns the nature of language. 

I: And especially since the nature of language remains some- 
thing altogether different for the Eastasian and the Euro- 
pean peoples. 

J : And what you call "nature” also remains different. How, 
then, could our reflection get out into the open? 

I: Most easily if from the very outset we do not demand too 
much. Thus I shall permit myself for the moment to put 
to you an altogether preliminary question. 

J: I fear that even this question can hardly be answered unless 
we disregard the danger of our dialogue. 

I: That cannot be, since we are walking toward the danger. 

J: Then ask away. 

/: What does the Japanese world understand by language? 
Asked still more cautiously: Do you have in your language 
a word for what we call language? If not, how do you expe- 
rience what with us is called language? 

J: No one has ever asked me that question. And it seems to 
me also that we in our own Japanese world pay no heed to 
what you are asking me now. I must beg you, then, to allow 
me a few moments of reflection. 

(The Japanese closes his eyes , lowers his head , and sinks 
into a long reflection. The Inquirer waits until his guest 
resumes the conversation.) 

J : There is a Japanese word that says the essential being of 
language, rather than being of use as a name for speaking 
and for language. 

I: The matter itself requires that, because the essential being 




24 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



of language cannot be anything linguistic. The same holds 
true for the phrase “house of Being." 

]: From a great distance I sense a kinship between our word 
that is now before my mind, and your phrase. 

I: The phrase gives a hint of the nature of language. 

]: It seems to me you have just said a freeing word. 

/: Then that hint would be the word’s basic character. 

]: Only now that you speak of hint, a word I could not find, 
something becomes clearer to me that I had merely surmised 
when 1 read your “Letter on Humanism," and translated 
into Japanese your lecture on Holderlin’s elegy “Home- 
coming." During the same period I was translating Kleist’s 
Penthesilea and the Amphitryon. 

I: The nature of the German language must at that time have 
come over you like a waterfall. 

J : It did indeed. And while I was translating, I often felt as 
though I were wandering back and forth between two differ- 
ent language realities, such that at moments a radiance 
shone on me which let me sense that the wellspring of 
reality from which those two fundamentally different lan- 
guages arise was the same. 

I: You did not, then, seek for a general concept under which 
both the European and the Eastasian languages could be 
subsumed. 

]: Absolutely not. When you now speak of hints, this freeing 
word emboldens me to name to you the word by which 
to us the nature of language is— how shall I say . . . 

/: . . . perhaps hinted. 

]: That is to the point. But even so I fear that to call your 
“house of Being" a hint might tempt you and me to elab- 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 25 

orate the notion of hinting into a guiding concept in which 
we then bundle up everything. 

I: That must not happen. 

J: How will you prevent it? 

/: It can never be prevented in the sense of being totally 
excluded. 

J: Why not? 

/: Because the mode of conceptual representation insinuates 
itself all too easily into every kind of human experience. 

J: Even where thinking is in a certain sense concept-less? 

I: Even there— you need only recall how instantly you accepted 
Kuki's aesthetic interpretation of Iki as appropriate, even 
though it rests on European, that is to say, on metaphysical 
ideas. 

y.* If I understand you rightly, you mean to say that the meta- 
physical manner of forming ideas is in a certain respect un- 
avoidable. 

I: That is what Kant saw clearly, in his own way. 

J: Yet we realize only rarely the full implications of his in- 
sight. 

/: Because Kant was unable to develop it beyond metaphysics. 
The unbroken rule of metaphysics establishes itself even 
where we do not expect it— in the elaboration of logic into 
logistics. 

J: Do you consider that a metaphysical process? 

I: Indeed I do. And the attack upon the nature of language 
which is concealed in that process, perhaps the last attack 
from that quarter, remains unheeded. 

J: We must guard all the more carefully the ways toward the 
nature or reality of language. 




26 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



/: It would even be enough if we were to succeed only in 
building a bypath toward those ways. 

]: Your speaking of hints seems to me to indicate a trail that 
might lead to such a path. 

I: But even to talk of a hint is to venture too much. 

J: We understand only too well that a thinker would prefer to 
hold back the word that is to be said, not in order to keep it 
for himself, but to bear it toward his encounter with what is 
to be thought. 

/: That is in keeping with the hints. They are enigmatic. They 
beckon to us. They beckon away. They beckon us toward 
that from which they unexpectedly bear themselves toward 
us. 

J: You are thinking of hints as belonging together with what 
you have explained by the word “gesture” or “bearing.” 

/: That is so. 

J: Hints and gestures, according to what you indicated, differ 
from signs and chiffres, all of which have their habitat in 
metaphysics. 

I: Hints and gestures belong to an entirely different realm of 
reality, if you will allow this term which seems treacherous 
even to myself. 

J : What you suggest confirms a surmise I have long cherished. 
Your phrase “house of Being” must not be taken as a mere 
hasty image which helps us in imagining what we will, such 
as: house is a shelter erected earlier somewhere or other, in 
which Being, like a portable object, can be stored away. 

I: That notion proves invalid as soon as we think of the am- 
biguity of “Being” of which we have spoken. With that ex- 
pression, I do not mean the Being of beings represented 
metaphysically, but the presence of Being, more precisely 
the presence of the two-fold, Being and beings— but this 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 27 

two-fold understood in respect of its importance for thinking 
them. 

]: If we heed this, then your phrase can never become a mere 
catchword. 

/; It already has become one. 

J: Because you demand too much of today's manner of 
thinking. 

I: Too much, quite true, too much of what has not yet ripened. 

J: You mean ripened so that it drops like a fruit from a tree. 
It seems to me that there are no such words. A saying that 
would wait for that would not be in keeping with the 
nature of language. And you yourself are the last person 
who would lay claim to such saying. 

/: You do me too much honor. May I return the honor by 
surmising that you are nearer to the reality of language 
than all our concepts. 

J: Not I, but the word for which you are asking, the word 
which I, now somewhat emboldened, may hardly withhold 
from you any longer. 

I: This remark tells me that your word, still withheld, for the 
reality of what we call language will bring us a surprise such 
as we dare not hope for even now. 

J: That could be. That surprise, however— which will strike 
you with the same force with which it is holding me captive 
ever since your question— needs to have the possibility of 
swinging widely. 

I: Which is why you hesitate. 

J: Emboldened by your indication that the word is a hint, and 
not a sign in the sense of mere signification. 

I: Hints need the widest sphere in which to swing . . . 

J: . . . where mortals go to and fro only slowly. 




28 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



I: This is what our language calls “hesitate/’ It is done truly 
when slowness rests on shy reverence. And so I do not wish 
to disturb your hesitation by urging you on too rashly. 

J: You are more helpful to me in my attempt to say the word 
than you can know. 

I: I shall not hide from you that you are throwing me into a 
state of great agitation, especially because all my efforts to 
get an answer to my question from language experts and 
linguistic scholars of language have so far been in vain. But 
in order that your reflection may swing freely, almost with- 
out your prompting, let us exchange roles, and let me be 
the one who gives the answers, specifically the answer to 
your question about hermeneutics. 

J: We are back, then, on the path which we took first in our 
dialogue. 

I: A path on which we did not get very far with an explica- 
tion of hermeneutics. I told you stories, rather, showing how 
I came to employ the word. 

J: While I, in turn, noted that now you do not use it any 
longer. 

I: Finally, 1 emphasized that hermeneutics, used as an adjunct 
word to “phenomenology,” does not have its usual meaning, 
methodology of interpretation, but means the interpretation 
itself. 

J: Then our dialogue drifted away into the undefined. 

/: Fort una tel v. 

j 

J: Even so, J thank you for coming back once more to 
hermeneutics. 

I: As I do so, I would like to start from the etymology of the 
word; it will show you that my use of the word is not arbi- 
trary, and that it also is apt to clarify the intention of my 
experiment with phenomenology. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 2Q 

J: I am all the more puzzled that you have meanwhile dropped 
both words. 

I: That was done, not— as is often thought— in order to deny 
the significance of phenomenology, but in order to abandon 
my own path of thinking to namelessness. 

J: An effort with which you will hardly be successful . . . 

/: . . . since one cannot get by in public without rubrics. 

J : But that cannot prevent you from giving also a more pre- 
cise explanation of the terms “hermeneutics’' and “herme- 
neutic” which you have meanwhile abandoned. 

I: I shall be glad to try, because the explanation may issue in 
a discussion. 

J: In the sense in which your lecture on Trakl’s poetry* un- 
derstands discussion. 

I: Exactly in that sense. The expression “hermeneutic” derives 
from the Greek verb hermeneuein. That verb is related to 
the noun hermeneus, which is referable to the name of the 
god Hermes by a playful thinking that is more compelling 
than the rigor of science. Hermes is the divine messenger. 
He brings the message of destiny; hermeneuein is that expo- 
sition which brings tidings because it can listen to a mes- 
sage. Such exposition becomes an interpretation of what has 
been said earlier by the poets who, according to Socrates in 
Plato’s Ion (534e), hertnenes eisin ton theon —' are interpre- 
ters of the gods.” 

J: I am very fond of this short Platonic dialogue. In the 
passage you have in mind, Socrates carries the affinities even 
further by surmising that the rhapsodes are those who bear 
the tidings of the poets’ word. 

/: All this makes it clear that hermeneutics means not just the 
interpretation but, even before it, the bearing of message 
and tidings. 



•See below, p. 159. (Ed.) 




30 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

]: Why do you stress this original sense of hermeneuein ? 

/: Because it was this original sense which prompted me to use 
it in defining the phenomenological thinking that opened 
the way to Being and Time for me. What mattered then, 
and still does, is to bring out the Being of beings— though 
no longer in the manner of metaphysics, but such that Being 
itself will shine out. Being itself— that is to say: the presence 
of present beings, the two-fold of the two in virtue of their 
simple oneness. This is what makes its claim on man, calling 
him to its essential being. 

/: Man, then, realizes his nature as man by corresponding to 
the call of the two-fold, and bears witness to it in its 
message. 

/: Accordingly, w'hat prevails in and bears up the relation of 
human nature to the two fold is language. Language defines 
the hermeneutic relation. 

]: Thus when I ask you about hermeneutics, and when you 
ask me w'hat our word is for what you call language, we ask 
each other the Same. 

I: Clearly, and that is why w'e may confidently entrust our- 
selves to the hidden drift of our dialogue . . . 

/: . . . as long as we remain inquirers. 

/: You do not mean that we are pumping each other, out of 
curiosity, but . . . 

7:... but rather that we go right on releasing into the open 
whatever might be said. 

I: That could all too easily give the impression that everything 
we say drifts away noncommittally. 

J: We can counter that impression by paying heed to the doc- 
trines of past thinkers, and always let them, too, take part 
in our dialogue. What I have just said is something I 

learned from you. 

/ 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 31 

I: What you learned there has been learned in turn by listen- 
ing to the thinkers* thinking. Each man is in each instance 
in dialogue with his forebears, and perhaps even more and 
in a more hidden manner with those who will come after 
him. 

]: In a deeper sense, this historical nature of every thinking 
dialogue is not, however, in need of all those enterprises 
which, in the manner of historiography, report things from 
the past about the thinkers and what they have thought. 

/: Certainly not. But for us today it may become a pressing 
need to prepare such conversations, by interpreting prop- 
erly what earlier thinkers have said. 

]: Something that could easily degenerate into mere busy work. 

I: That is a danger we stave off as long as we ourselves make 
an effort to think in dialogue. 

J : And, as you say in your language, weigh each word. 

I: But, above all, examine whether each word in each case is 
given its full— most often hidden— weight. 

J: It seems to me that we are following this unwritten pre- 
scription, though I must confess that I am a very clumsy 
questioner. 

I: All of us remain clumsy questioners. Despite much care, we 
still keep overlooking essentials— even here, in this dialogue, 
which led us to discuss hermeneutics and the reality of 
language. 

J: For the moment I fail to see in what way we were careless 
in our use of words. 

I: That is something we often notice only quite late, because 
the fault lies not so much in ourselves as in the fact that 
language is more powerful than we, and therefore weightier. 



J: In what sense? 




32 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: To illustrate by what we were just talking of . . . 

J: You said that language is the fundamental trait in human 
nature’s hermeneutic relation to the two-fold of presence 
and present beings. To that remark I at once intended to 
make a few observations; but I shall do so only after you 
have shown just what we have failed to think of in that 
context. 

I: I mean the word "relation.” We think of it in the sense of a 
relationship. What we know in that way we can identify in 
an empty, formal sense, and employ like a mathematical 
notation. Think of the procedure of logistics. But in the 
phrase, "man stands in hermeneutical relation to the two- 
fold,” we may hear the word "relation” also in a wholly 
different way. In fact, we must, if we give thought to what 
was said. Presumably, we must and can do so not right away 
but in good time, after long reflection. 

]: Then it will do no harm if for the time being we under- 
stand "relation” in the customary sense of relationship. 

1: True— but it is inadequate from the start, assuming that 
this word "relation” is to become a mainstay of our 
statement. 

We say "correlation” also when talking about the supply 
and demand of commodities. If man is in a hermeneutical 
relation, however, that means that he is precisely not a 
commodity. But the word "relation” does want to say that 
man, in his very being, is in demand, is needed, that he, 
as the being he is, belongs within a needfulness which 
claims him. 

]: In what sense? 

I: Hermeneutically- that is to say, with respect to bringing 
tidings, with respec t to preserving a message. 

J: Man stands "in relation” then says the same as: Man is 
reallv as man when needed and used bv . . . 

/: . . . what calls on man to preserve the two fold . . . 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



33 



]: . . . which, as far as I can see, cannot be explained in terms 
of presence, nor in terms of present beings, nor in terms of 
the relation of the two. 

I: Because it is only the two fold itself which unfolds the 
clarity, that is, the clearing in which present beings as such, 
and presence, can be discerned by man . . . 

]: . . . by man who by nature stands in relation to, that is, is 
being used by, the two-fold. 

/: This is also why we may no longer say: relation to the two- 
fold, for the two-fold is not an object of mental representa- 
tion, but is the sway of usage. 

J: Which we never experience directly, however, as long as we 
think of the two-fold only as the difference which becomes 
apparent in a comparison that tries to contrast present 
beings and their presence. 

I: I am surprised that you see so clearly. 

J: When I can follow you in the dialogue, I succeed. Left 
alone , I am helpless; for even the manner in which you 
employ the words “relation" and “use” . . . 

/: ... or, better, the manner in which I use them . . . 

J: . . . is strange enough. 

I: 1 don’t deny it. But it seems to me that, in the field in which 
we are moving, we reach those things with which we are 
originarily familiar precisely if we do not shun passing 
through things strange to us. 

J: In what sense do you understand "originarily familiar”? 
You do not mean what we know first, do you? 

/: No— but what before all else has been entrusted to our 
nature, and becomes known onlv at the last. 

J: And that is what your thinking pursues. 




34 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: Only that— but in this way, that in it there is veiled all that 
is worthy of thought as such and as a whole. 

J: And in that thinking, you pay no heed to the current ideas 
of your fellows. 

I: It seems that way, of course; but in truth, every thinking 
step only serves the effort to help man in his thinking to find 
the path of his essential being. 

J: Hence your reflection on language . . . 

/: . . . on language in its relation to the nature of Being, that 
is to say, to the sway of the two-fold. 

J: But if language is the basic trait in hermeneutically defined 
usage, then you experience the reality of language from the 
start differently from the way one does in metaphysical 
thinking. This is what I had intended to point out earlier. 

I: But what for? 

J: Not for the sake of contrasting something new with the 
conventional, but to remind us that our dialogue speaks 
historically precisely in its attempt to reflect on the nature 
of language. 

I: It speaks out of a thinking respect of the past. 

J: And this is just what was to be noted in the title of the lec- 
ture series the copy of which was frequently discussed in the 
twenties among us Japanese. 

I: I must be frank and tell you that here you are mistaken. The 
lecture series “Expression and Appearance” (or was not the 
title “Expression and Meaning”?) was still rather contro- 
versial, even though it remained informed by what we now 
call the historic character of thinking dialogue. 

J: The title, then, was to point up a contrast. 

I: In any event, I was concerned to bring into view that which 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



35 



is wholly different— of which, however, I had only an ob- 
scure if not confused intimation. Such youthful capers 
easily lead to doing injustice. 

J: The word “expression" in the title is the name for what you 
oppose. For your gaze into the nature of language does not 
fasten upon the phonetics and the written forms of the 
words, which are generally conceived to constitute the 
expressive character of language. 

I: The name “expression" is here understood in the narrow 
sense of sensuous appearance. Yet even where our attention 
is focused on the content of meaning in the phonetic and 
written formations, even there language is still conceived as 
expressive in character. 

J: How so? Speech understood in the fullness of its meaning 
transcends— and does so always— the physical-sensible side of 
phonetics. Language, as sense that is sounded and written, 
is in itself suprasensuous, something that constantly tran- 
scends the merely sensible. So understood, language is in 
itself metaphysical. 

I: I agree with everything you propose. But language makes 
its appearance in this metaphysical nature only insofar as it 
is beforehand understood to be expression. Expression does 
not mean here only the enunciated sounds of speech and 
the printed signs of writing. Expression is simultaneously 
utterance. 

J : Utterance refers to its inwardness, to what pertains to the 
soul. 

I: In the days of that lecture, everyone was talking about 
experience ( Erlebnis ), even within phenomenology. 

J: A famous book by Dilthey has the title Experience and 

Poetry. 

I: To experience in this sense always means to refer back— to 
refer life and lived experience back to the “I." Experience 




36 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



is the name for the referral of the objective back to the 
subject. The much-discussed I /Thou experience, too, be- 
longs within the metaphysical sphere of subjectivity. 

J: And this sphere of subjectivity and of the expression that 
belongs to it is what you left behind when you entered into 
the hermeneutic relation to the two-fold. 

I: At least I tried. The guiding notions which, under the 
names “expression," “experience," and “consciousness," de- 
termine modern thinking, were to be put in question with 
respect to the decisive role they played. 

J: But then I no longer understand how you could choose the 
title “Expression and Appearance." It was intended, was it 
not, to announce a contrast. “Expression" is the utterance 
of something internal and refers to the subjective. “Appear- 
ance," on the contrary, names the objective, if I may here 
recall Kant’s usage according to which appearances are the 
objects, the objects of experience. By giving your lecture 
that title, you did commit yourself to the subject-object 
relation. 

I: In a certain respect your objection is justified, if only for 
the reason that much had to remain unclear in those lec- 
tures. Nobody can in just one single leap take distance from 
the predominant circle of ideas, especially not if he is deal- 
ing with the well-worn tracks of traditional thinking— tracks 
that fade into realms where they can hardly be seen. Besides, 
taking such distance from all tradition is tempered by the 
very fact that the seemingly subversive will tries above all to 
recover the things of the past in a more originary form. It is 
on purpose that the first page of Being and Time speaks of 
“raising again" a question. What is meant is not the 
monotonous trotting out of something that is always the 
same, but: to fetch, to gather in, to bring together what is 
concealed within the old. 

J : Our teachers and my friends in Japan have always under- 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



37 



stood your efforts in that sense. Professor Tanabe often 
came back to a question you once put to him: why it was 
that we Japanese did not call back to mind the venerable 
beginnings of our own thinking, instead of chasing ever 
more greedily after the latest news in European philosophy. 
As a matter of fact, we do so still today. 

I: It is not easy to go counter to that tendency. Such proce- 
dures, in good time, are smothered by their own sterility. 
But what requires our contribution is a different matter. 

]: Which would be? 

I: To give heed to the trails that direct thinking back into the 
region of its source. 

J: Do you find such trails in your own attempt? 

/: I find them only because they are not of my own making, 
and are discernible only quite rarely, like the wind-borne 
echd of a distant call. 

J: But I would gather then that in the distinction “Expression 
and Appearance,” you are no longer basing yourself on the 
subject-object relation. 

I: You will see it even more clearly if you attend to what I 
would now like to add to your mention of Kant's concept of 
appearance. Kant's definition is based on the event that 
everything present has already become the object of our 
representation. 

J: In appearance as Kant thinks of it, our experience must 
already include the object as something in opposition to us. 

I: That is necessary not only in order to understand Kant 
properly, but also and above all else so that we may experi- 
ence the appearing of the appearance, if I may put it that 
way, originarily. 

J: How does this happen? 




38 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: The Greeks were the first to experience and think of 
phainomena as phenomena. But in that experience it is 
thoroughly alien to the Greeks to press present beings into 
an opposing objectness; phainesthai means to them that a 
being assumes its radiance, and in that radiance it appears. 
Thus appearance is still the basic trait of the presence of 
all present beings, as they rise into unconcealment. 

J: Accordingly, in your title “Expression and Appearance” you 
use the second noun in the Greek sense? 

I: Yes and no. Yes, in that for me the name “appearance” does 
not name objects as objects, and least of all as objects of 
consciousness— consciousness always meaning self-conscious- 
ness. 

J: In short: appearance not in the Kantian sense. 

/: Merely to contrast it with Kant is not enough. For even 
where the term “object” is used for present beings as sub- 
sisting within themselves, and Kant's interpretation of 
objectness is rejected, we are still far from thinking of ap- 
pearance in the Greek sense— but fundamentally though 
rather in a very hidden sense, in the manner of Descartes: 
in terms of the “I” as the subject. 

J: Yet your “no” suggests that you, too, do not think of ap- 
pearance in the Greek sense. 

I: You are right. What is decisive here is difficult to render 
visible, because it calls for simple and free vision. 

J: Such vision, obviously, is still rare. For usually your defini- 
tion of appearance is equated, sight unseen, with that of the 
Greeks; and it is considered a foregone conclusion that your 
thinking has no other aim than a return to Greek and even 
pre-Socratic thinking. 

/: That opinion is foolish, of course, and yet it has something 
in mind that is correct. 

J: How so? 

I: To answer your question with the necessary brevity, I would 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 39 

venture a turn of phrase which is at once open to new 
misinterpretations . . . 

]: . . . which you, however, can counter just as quickly. 

I: Certainly, if it did not cause further delays in our dialogue, 
whose time is limited because tomorrow you will leave 
again, to go to Florence. 

J : I have already decided to stay for another day, if you will 
allow me to visit you again. 

I: There is nothing I would rather do. But even with this 
pleasant prospect I must keep the answer short. 

]: How is it then with your relation to the thinking of the 
Greeks? 

/: Our thinking today is charged with the task to think what 
the Greeks have thought in an even more Greek manner. 

]: And so to understand the Greeks better than they have 
understood themselves. 

/: No, that is not it; for all great thinking always understands 
itself best of all, that is to say, itself within the limits set 
for it. 

J : Then, what does it mean: to think what the Greeks have 
thought in an even more Greek manner? 

I: It can be readily explained with a view to the essence of 
appearance. If to be present itself is thought of as appear- 
ance, then there prevails in being present the emergence 
into openness in the sense of unconcealedness. This uncon- 
cealedness comes about in the unconcealment as a clearing; 
but this clearing itself, as occurrence, remains unthought 
in every respect. To enter into thinking this unthought 
occurrence means: to pursue more originally what the 
Greeks have thought, to see it in the source of its reality. 
To see it so is in its own way Greek, and yet in respect of 
what it sees is no longer, is never again, Greek. 

/: Then, what is it? 




40 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: It seems to me no answer to this question is incumbent on 
us. Nor would an answer help us, because what matters is 
to see appearance as the reality of presence in its essential 
origin. 

] : If you succeed with that, then you are thinking of appear- 
ance in the Greek way, and at the same time no longer in the 
Greek way. You said— at least this was the sense of what 
you said— that we leave the sphere of the subject-object re- 
lation behind us when thinking enters into the experience 
just mentioned, in which the real origin of appearance- 
dare we say— itself appears? 

I: Hardly. But you are touching on something essential. For 
in the source of appearance, something comes toward man 
that holds the two-fold of presence and present beings. 

J: That two fold has always already offered itself to man, 
although its nature remained veiled. 

/: Man, to the extent he is man, listens to this message. 

J: And that happens even while man gives no particular atten- 
tion to the fact that he is ever listening already to that 
message. 

I: Man is used for hearing the message. 

J: This you called a while ago: man stands in a relation. 

I: And the relation is called hermeneutical because it brings 
the tidings of that message. 

J: This message makes the claim on man that he respond 
to it . . . 

/: . . . to listen and belong to it as man. 

/: And this is what you call being human, if you here still ad- 
mit the word “being.” 

I: Man is the message-bearer of the message which the two- 
fold’s unconcealment speaks to him. 

J: As far as 1 am able to follow' what you are saying, I sense 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 41 

a deeply concealed kinship with our thinking, precisely be- 
cause your path of thinking and its language are so wholly 
other. 

/: Your admission agitates me in a way which I can control 
only because we remain in dialogue. But there is one ques- 
tion I cannot leave out. 

J: Which? 

I: The question of the site in w F hich the kinship that you 
sense comes into play. 

J: Your question reaches far. 

I: How so? 

J: The distance is the boundlessness which is shown to us in 
Ku, which means the sky’s emptiness. 

I: Then, man, as the message-bearer of the message of the two- 
fold’s unconcealment, w'ould also be he who walks the 
boundary of the boundless. 

J: And on this path he seeks the boundary’s mystery . . . 

/: . . . which cannot be hidden in anything other than the 
voice that determines and tunes his nature. 

J: What w f e are now saying— forgive the “we”— can no longer 
be discussed on the strength of the metaphysical notion 
of language. Presumably this is w'hy you tried to suggest 
that you were turning away from that notion by giving 
your lecture course the title “Expression and Appearance.’’ 

I: The entire course remained a suggestion. I never did more 
than follow a faint trail, but follow it I did. The trail was 
an almost imperceptible promise announcing that we would 
be set free into the open, now dark and perplexing, now 
again lightning-sharp like a sudden insight, which then, in 
turn, eluded every effort to say it. 

J: Later, too, in Being and Time, your discussion of language 
remains quite sparse. 




42 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: Even so, after our dialogue you may want to read Section 
34 in Being and Time more closely. 

J: I have read it many times, and each time regretted that you 
kept it so short. But I believe that now I see more clearly 
the full import of the fact that hermeneutics and language 
belong together. 

I: The full import in what direction? 

J: Toward a transformation of thinking— a transformation 
which, however, cannot be established as readily as a ship 
can alter its course, and even less can be established as the 
consequence of an accumulation of the results of philo- 
sophical research. 

I: The transformation occurs as a passage .' . . 

/: . . . in which one site is left behind in favor of another . . . 

/: . . . and that requires that the sites be placed in discussion. 

J : One site is metaphysics. 

I: And the other? We leave it without a name. 

J: Meanwhile, I find it more and more puzzling how Count 
Kuki could get the idea that he could expect your path of 
thinking to be of help to him in his attempts in aesthetics, 
since your path, in leaving behind metaphysics, also leaves 
behind the aesthetics that is grounded in metaphysics. 

/: But leaves it behind in such a way that we can only now 
give thought to the nature of aesthetics, and direct it back 
within its boundaries. 

J: Perhaps it was this prospect that attracted Kuki; for he was 
much too sensitive, and much too thoughtful, to concern 
himself with the calculus of mere doctrines. 

I: He used the European rubric “aesthetics,” but what he 
thought and searched for was something else . . . 

J: Iki— a word I dare not translate even now. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 43 

I: But perhaps you are now in a better position to describe 
the veiled hint that the word gives us. 

]: Only after you have clarified the nature of the aesthetic. 

/: That has already been done in the course of our dialogue 
—precisely where we did not specifically speak of it. 

J : You mean when we discussed the subject-object relation? 

1: Where else? Aesthetics, or shall we say, experience within 
the sphere in which it sets the standard, from the very start 
turns the art work into an object for our feelings and ideas. 
Only when the art work has become an object, only then is 
it fit for exhibitions and museums . . . 

/: . . . and fit also to be valued and appraised. 

I: Artistic quality becomes a distinguishing factor in con- 
temporary-modern art experience. 

J: Or shall we say straight out: in the art business. 

I: But what is artistic is defined with reference to creativity 
and virtuosity. 

J: Does art subsist in the artistic, or is it the other way around? 
All talk about the artistic seems to reveal that precedence 
is given to the artist . . . 

/: . . . as the subject who remains related to the work as his 
object. 

J : But this is the framework in which all aesthetics belongs. 

I: That framework is so treacherous, that is to say, so all- 
embracing, that it can capture also all other kinds of expe- 
rience of art and its nature. 

/.* It can embrace, but never make its own. This is why I 
fear now more than ever that every explication of Iki will 
fall into the clutches of aesthetic ideation. 

1: It would depend— will you try? 

]: Iki is the gracious. 




44 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

/: As soon as you say this, we are at once in the midst of 
aesthetics— think of Schiller’s treatise on “Grace and Dig- 
nity.” That treatise, just as his later Letters on the Aesthetic 
Education of Man, was inspired by his dialogue with Kant’s 
aesthetics. 

J : If I am rightly informed, both works contributed a decisive 
stimulus for Hegel's Aesthetics. 

I: And so it would be presumptuous if we now tried to con- 
vince ourselves with a few remarks that we have mastered 
the nature of aesthetics. 

]: But speaking only by and large, I may attempt to detach 
Iki, which we just translated with “grace,” from aesthetics, 
that is to say, from the subject-object relation. I do not 
now mean gracious in the sense of a stimulus that en- 
chants . . . 

/: . . . that is, not in the realm of what stimulates, of impres- 
sions, of a is t h es is — but? 

]: Rather in the opposite direction; but I am aware that with 
this indication I still remain embroiled in the realm of 
aesthetics. 

/: If we keep this reservation in mind, there is no harm in 
your trying to give the explication just the same. 

]: Iki is the breath of the stillness of luminous delight. 

/: You understand “delight” literally, then, as what ensnares, 

carries awav— into stillness. 

/ 

] : There is in it nothing anywhere of stimulus and impression. 

I: The delight is of the same kind as the hint that beckons 
on, and beckons to and fro. 

/: The hint, however, is the message of the veiling that 
opens up. 

I: Then, all presence would have its source in grace, in the 
sense of the pure delight of the beckoning stillness. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



45 



J: The fact that you give ear to me, or better, to the probing 
intimations I propose, awakens in me the confidence to drop 
my hesitations which have so far kept me from answering 
your question. 

I: You mean the question which word in your language sj>eaks 
for what we Europeans call “language.” 

J: Up to this moment I have shied away from that word, 
because I must give a translation which makes our word 
for language look like a mere pictograph, to wit, some- 
thing that belongs within the precincts of conceptual ideas; 
for European science and its philosophy try to grasp the 
nature of language only by way of concepts. 

/: What is the Japanese word for “language”? 

J: (after further hesitation) It is “ Koto ba 

I: And what does that say? 

J: ba means leaves, including and especially the leaves of a 
blossom— petals. Think of cherry blossoms or plum blossoms. 

I: And what does Koto say? 

J: This is the question most difficult to answer. But it is easier 
now to attempt an answer because we have ventured to 
explain Iki: the pure delight of the beckoning stillness. The 
breath of stillness that makes this beckoning delight come 
into its own is the reign under which that delight is made 
to come. But Koto always also names that which in the 
event gives delight, itself, that which uniquely in each 
unrepeatable moment comes to radiance in the fullness of 
its grace. 

/: Koto , then, would be the appropriating occurrence of the 
lightening message of grace. 

/: Beautifully said! Only the word “grate” easily misleads the 
modern mind . . . 



/.... leads it away into the precincts of impressions . . . 




46 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

J: . . . whose corollary is always expression as the manner in 
which something is set free. It seems to me more helpful 
to turn to the Greek word charis , which I found in the 
lovely saying that you quote from Sophocles, in your lecture 
” . . . Poetically Man Dwells . . .”, and translated "gracious- 
ness.” This saying comes closer to putting into words the 
breathlike advent of the stillness of delight. 

I: And something else, too, that I wanted to say there but 
could not offer within the context of the lecture, charis is 
there called tiktousa— that which brings forward and forth. 
Our German word dichten , iihton says the same. Thus 
Sophocles’ lines portend to us that graciousness is itself 
poetical, is itself what really makes poetry, the we!ling-up 
of the message of the two-fold’s unconcealment. 

]: I would need more time than our dialogue allows to follow 
in thought the new prospects you have opened with your 
remark. But one thing I see at once— that your remark helps 
me to say more clearly what Koto is. 

1: And that seems to me indispensable if 1 am to think at all 
adequately your Japanese word for "language,” Koto ba , 
along with you. 

J: You well remember that point in our dialogue where I 
named to you the Japanese words allegedly corresponding 
to the distinction between aistheton and noeton: Iro and Ku. 
Iro means more than color and whatever can be perceived 
by the senses. Ku, the open, the sky’s emptiness, means more 
than the supra-sensible. 

/: You could not say in what the "more” consists. 

J: But now I can follow a hint which the two words hold. 

/: In what direction do they hint? 

J: Toward the source from which the mutual interplay of the 
two comes to pass. 



I: Which is? 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 47 

]: Koto, the happening of the lightening message of the gra- 
ciousness that brings forth. 

I: Koto would be the happening holding sway . . . 

/: . . . holding sway over that which needs the shelter of all 
that flourishes and flowers. 

I: Then, as the name for language, what does Koto ba say? 

J: Language, heard through this word, is: the petals that stem 
from Koto. 

I: That is a wondrous word, and therefore inexhaustible to 
our thinking. It names something other than our names, 
understood metaphysically, present to us: language, glossa , 
lingua, langue. For long now, I have been loth to use the 
word “language” when thinking on its nature. 

J : But can you find a more fitting word? 

I: I believe I have found it; but I would guard it against being 
used as a current tag, and corrupted to signify a concept. 

J: Which word do you use? 

/: The word “Saying.” It means: saying and what is said in it 
and what is to be said. 

/: What does “say” mean? 

I: Probably the same as “show” in the sense of: let appear and 
let shine, but in the manner of hinting. 

J: Saying, then, is not the name for human speaking . . . 

/: . . . but for that essential being which your Japanese word 
Koto ba hints and beckons: that which is like a saga . . . 

J: . . . and in whose beckoning hint I have come to be at 
home only now through our dialogue, so that now I also see 
more clearly how well-advised Count Kuki was when he, 
under your guidance, tried to reflect his way through 
hermeneutics. 

/: But you also see how meager my guidance was bound to 
be; for the thinking look into the nature of Saying is only 




48 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



the beginning of that path which takes us back out of merely 
metaphysical representations, to where we heed the hints 
of that message whose proper bearers we would want to 
become. 

J: That path is long. 

I: Not so much because it leads far away, but because it leads 
through what is near. 

J: Which is as near, and has long been as near, as the word for 
the reality of language, Koto ba — a word to which so far no 
thought has been given— is to us Japanese. 

I: Petals that stem from Koto . Imagination would like to roam 
away into still unexperienced realms when this word begins 
its saying. 

J: It could roam only if it were let go into mere representa- 
tional ideas. But where imagination wells up as the well- 
spring of thinking, it seems to me to gather rather than to 
stray. Kant already had an intimation of something of the 
sort, as you yourself have shown. 

I: But is our thinking already at that wellspring? 

J: If not, then it is on its way there as soon as it seeks the path 
to which— as I now see more clearly— our Japanese word for 
language might beckon. 

I: In order that we may yield to that hint, we would have to 
be more experienced in the nature of language. 

J: It seems to me that efforts in that direction have accom- 
panied your path of thinking for decades— and in so many 
forms that you are by now sufficiently prepared to say some- 
thing about the nature of language as Saying. 

I: But you know equally well that one’s own effort alone is 
never adequate. 

J: That remains true. But what mortal strength by itself 
cannot accomplish, we can attain more readily if we are 
full ready to give away freely whatever it may be that we 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



49 



attempt on our own, even if it falls short of perfection. 

I: I have ventured some provisional remarks in the lecture 
which I gave several times in recent years, entitled “Lan- 
guage.”* 

J : I have read reports and even a transcript of that lecture. 

I: Such transcripts, even if made carefully, remain dubious 
sources— as I said earlier— and any transcript of that lecture 
is, anyway, a distortion of its saying. 

J: What do you mean by this harsh judgment? 

I: It is a judgment not about transcripts, but about an unclear 
characterization of the lecture. 

J: How so? 

I: The lecture is not speaking about language . . . 

J: But? 

I: If I could answer you now, the darkness surrounding the 
path would be lighted. But I cannot answer— on the same 
grounds that have so far kept me from letting the lecture 
appear in print. 

J: It would be forward of me to ask what those grounds are. 
After the way in which you a moment ago listened and 
took in our Japanese word for language, and from what you 
suggested about the message of the two-fold's unconceal- 
ment, and about man the message-bearer, I can only surmise 
vaguely what it means to transform the question of lan- 
guage into a reflection on the nature of Saying. 

/: You will forgive me if I am still sparing with indications 
that could perhaps lead to a discussion of the nature of 
Saying. 

/: That w r ould call for a journey into the region where the 
essential being of Saying is at home. 

• In Martin Heidegger. Par try, Language, and Thought (tr. A. Hofstadter; 

New York: Harper & Row, 1971). 




50 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: That before all else. But for the moment 1 have something 
else in mind. What prompts my reserve is the growing 
insight into the untouchable which is veiled from us by 
the mystery of Saying. A mere clarification of the difference 
between saying and speaking would gain us little. 

]: We Japanese have— I think I may say so— an innate under- 
standing for your kind of reserve. A mystery is a mystery 
only when it does not even come out that mystery is at work. 

/: To those who are superficial and in a hurry, no less than 
to those who are deliberate and reflective, it must look as 
though there were no mystery anywhere. 

J: But we are surrounded by the danger, not just of talking 
too loudly about the mystery, but of missing its working. 

/: To guard the purity of the mystery’s wellspring seems to me 
hardest of all. 

J: But does that give us the right simply to shun the trouble 
and the risk of speaking about language? 

I: Indeed not. We must incessantly strive for such speaking. 
What is so spoken cannot, of course, take the form of a 
scientific dissertation . . . 

/: . . . because the movement of the questioning that is called 
for here might too easily congeal. 

I: That would be the smallest loss. Something else is more 
weighty, and that is, whether there ever is such a thing as 
speaking about language. 

J : But what we are doing now is evidence that there is such 
speaking. 

/: All too much, I am afraid. 

J: Then I do not understand why you hesitate. 

/: Speaking about language turns language almost inevitably 
into an object. 

J: And then its reality vanishes. 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 5 1 

/: We then have taken up a position above language, instead 
of hearing from it. 

J: Then there would only be a speaking from language . . . 

/: . . . in this manner, that it would be called from out of 
language’s reality, and be led to its reality. 

J : How can we do that? 

I: A speaking from language could only be a dialogue. 

J: There is no doubt that we are moving in a dialogue. 

/: But is it a dialogue from out of the nature of language? 

J: It seems to me that now we are moving in a circle. A dia- 
logue from language must be called for from out of lan- 
guage’s reality. How can it do so, without first entering into 
a hearing that at once reaches that reality? 

I: I once called this strange relation the hermeneutic circle. 

J : The circle exists everywhere in hermeneutics, that is to say, 
according to your explanation of today, it exists where 
the relation of message and message- bearer prevails. 

/: The message-bearer must come from the message. But he 
must also have gone toward it. 

/: Did you not say earlier that this circle is inevitable, and 
that, instead of trying to avoid it as an alleged logical con- 
tradiction, we must follow it? 

/ : Yes. But this necessary acceptance of the hermeneutic circle 
does not mean that the notion of the accepted circle gives 
us an originary experience of the hermeneutic relation. 

) : In short, you would abandon your earlier view. 

/: Quite— and in this respect, that talk of a circle always re- 
mains superficial. 

J: How would you present the hermeneutic circle today? 

1 : 1 would avoid a presentation as resolutely as I would avoid 
speaking about language. 




52 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

]: Then everything would hinge on reaching a corresponding 
saying of language. 

/: Only a dialogue could be such a saying correspondence. 

]: But, patently, a dialogue altogether sui generis. 

/ : A dialogue that would remain originarily appropriated to 
Saying. 

J: But then, not every talk between people could be called a 
dialogue any longer . . . 

/: . . . if we from now on hear this word as though it named 
for us a focusing on the reality of language. 

]: In this sense, then, even Plato’s Dialogues would not be 
dialogues? 

I: I would like to leave that question open, and only point 
out that the kind of dialogue is determined by that which 
speaks to those who seemingly are the only speakers— men. 

]: Wherever the nature of language were to speak (say) to man 
as Saying, it, Saying, would bring about the real dialogue . . . 

/: . . . which does not say “about” language but of language, 
as needfully used of its very nature. 

J: And it would also remain of minor importance whether 
the dialogue is before us in writing, or whether it was 
spoken at some time and has now faded. 

/: Certainly— because the one thing that matters is whether 
this dialogue, be it written or spoken or neither, remains 
constantly coming. 

J: The course of such a dialogue would have to have a char- 
acter all its own, with more silence than talk. 

/: Above all, silence about silence . . . 

J: Because to talk and write about silence is what produces 
the most obnoxious chatter . . . 




A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 



53 



I: Who could simply be silent of silence? 

]: That would be authentic saying . . . 

/: . . . and would remain the constant prologue to the au- 
thentic dialogue of language. 

]: Are we not attempting the impossible? 

/: Indeed— so long as man has not yet been given the pure 
gift of the messenger’s course that the message needs which 
grants to man the unconcealment of the two-fold. 

J: To call forth this messenger’s course, and still more to go 
it, seems to me incomparably more difficult than to discuss 
the nature of Iki. 

I: Surely. For something would have to come about by which 
that vast distance in which the nature of Saying assumes its 
radiance, opened itself to the messenger’s course and shone 
upon it. 

J: A stilling would have to come about that quiets the breath 
of the vastness into the structure of Saying which calls out 
to the messenger. 

I : The veiled relation of message and messenger’s course plays 
everywhere. 

J: In our ancient Japanese poetry, an unknown |>oet sings of 
the intermingling scent of cherry blossom and plum blossom 
on the same branch. 

I: This is how I think of the being-towai d-each-other of vast- 
ness and stillness in the same Appropriation of the message 
of unconcealment of the two-fold. 

/: But who today could hear in it an echo of the nature of 
language which our word Koto ba names, flower petals that 
flourish out of the lightening message of the graciousness 
that brings forth? 




54 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

I: Who would find in all this a serviceable clarification of the 
nature of language? 

]: That nature will never be found as long as we demand 
information in the form of theorems and cue words. 

/: Yet many a man could be drawn into the prologue to a 
messenger's course once he keeps himself ready for a dialogue 
of language. 

J: It seems to me as though even we, now, instead of speak- 
ing about language, had tried to take some steps along a 
course which entrusts itself to the nature of Saying. 

I: Which promises , dedicates itself to the nature of Saying. 
Let us be glad if it not only seems so but is so. 

J: If it is so, what then? 

/.* Then the farewell of all “It is” comes to pass. 

J: But you do not think of the farewell as a loss and denial, 
do you? 

I: In no way. 

J: But? 

I: As the coming of what has been. 

J: But what is past, goes, has gone— how can it come? 

I: The passing of the past is something else than what has 
been. 

J : How are we to think that? 

I: As the gathering of what endures . . . 

/: . . . which, as you said recently, endures as what grants 
endurance . . . 

I : ... and stays the Same as the message . . . 

/: . . . which needs us as messengers. 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



i 



J. he three lectures that follow bear the title “The 
Nature of Language/’ They are intended to bring us face to 
face with a possibility of undergoing an experience with lan- 
guage. To undergo an experience with something— be it a 
thing, a person, or a god— means that this something befalls us, 
strikes us, comes over us, overwhelms and transforms us. When 
we talk of “undergoing” an experience, we mean specifically 
that the experience is not of our own making; to undergo here 
means that we endure it, suffer it, receive it as it strikes us and 
submit to it. It is this something itself that comes about, comes 
to pass, happens. 

To undergo an experience with language, then, mean s to le t 
mirsp1_Yf>« bp prnpgrly rnn^erged by the claim of language by 
entering into and subm ittin g to it. If it is true that man 
finds the proper abode of his existence in language— whether 
he is aware of it or not— then an experience we undergo 
with language will touch the innnermost nexus of our exist- 
ence. We who speak language may thereupon become trans- 
formed by such experiences, from one day to the next or in 
the course of time. But now it could be that an experience wc 



57 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



5 8 

undergo with language is too much for us moderns, even if it 
strikes us only to the extent that for once it draws our attention 
to our relation to language, so that from then on we may keep 
this relation in mind. 

Suppose, specifically, we were asked head-on: In what rela- 
tion do you live to the language you speak? We should not 
be embarrassed for an answer. Indeed, we would at once dis- 
cover a guideline and point of reference with which to lead 
the question into channels where it can safely be left. 

We speak our language. How else can we be close to lan- 
guage except by speaking? Even so, our relation to language 
is vague, obscure, almost speechless. As we ponder this curious 
situation, it can scarcely be avoided that every observation 
on the subject will at first sound strange and incomprehensible. 
It therefore might be helpful to us to rid ourselves of the habit 
of always hearing only what we already understand. This my 
proposal is addressed not only to all those who listen; it is 
addressed still more to him who tries to speak of language, 
all the more when he does so with the sole intent to show 
possibilities that will allow us to become mindful of language 
and our relation to it. 

But this, to undergo an experience with language, is some- 
thing else again than to gather information about language. 
Such information— linguists and philologists of the most di- 
verse languages, psychologists and analytic philosophers supply 
it to us, and constantly increase the supply, ad infinitum. Of 
late, the scientific and philosophical investigation of languages 
is aiming ever more resolutely at the production of what is 
called “metalanguage.” Analytical philosophy, which is set on 
producing this super-language, is thus quite consistent when it 
considers itself metalinguistics. That sounds Uke metaphysics 
—not only sounds like it, it is metaphysics. Metalinguistics is 
1 the metaphysics of the thoroughgoing technicalization of all 
i languages into the sole operative instrument of interplanetary 
* information. Metalanguage and sputnik, metalinguistics and 
rocketry are the Same. 

However, we must not give grounds for the impression that 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



59 



we are here passing negative judgment on the scientific and 
philosophical investigation of language and of languages. Such 
investigation has its own particular justification and retains 
its own importance. But scientific and philosophical informa- 
tion about language is one thing; an experience we undergo 
with language is another. Whether the attempt to bring us 
face to face with the possibility of such an experience will 
succeed, and if it does, how far that possible success will go 
for each one of us— that is not up to any of us. 

What is left for us to do is to point out ways that bring us 
face to face with a possibility of undergoing an experience with 
language. Such ways have long existed. But they are seldom 
used in such a manner that the possible experience with 
language is itself given voice and put into language. In expe- 
riences which we undergo with language, language itself brings 
itself to language. One would think that this happens anyway, 
any time anyone speaks. Yet at whatever time and in whatever 
way we speak a language, language itself never has the floor. 
Any number of things are given voice in speaking, above all 
what we are speaking about: a set of facts, an occurrence, a 
question, a matter of concern. Only because in everyday speak- 
ing language does not bring itself to language but holds back, 
are we able simply to go ahead and speak a language, and so to 
deal with something and negotiate something by speaking. 

But when does language speak itself as language? Curiously 
enough, when we cannot find the right word for something that 
concerns us, carries us away, oppresses or encourages us. Then 
we leave unspoken what we have in mind and, without rightly 
giving it thought, undergo moments in which language itself 
has distantly and fleetingly touched us with its essential being. 

But when the issue is to put into language something which 
has never yet been spoken, then everything depends on whether 
language gives or withholds the appropriate word. Such is the 
case of the poet. Indeed, a poet might even come to the point 
where he is compelled— in his own way, that is, poetically— 
to put into language the experience he undergoes with 
language. 




6o 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



Among Stefan George’s late, simple, almost songlike poems 
there is one entitled “The Word.” It was first published in 
1919. Later it was included in the collection Das Neue Reich. 
The poem is made up of seven stanzas. The first three are 
clearly marked off from the next three, and these two triads 
as a whole are again marked off from the seventh, final stanza. 
The manner in which we shall here converse with this poem, 
briefly but throughout all three lectures, does not claim 
to be scientific. The poem runs: 

The Word 

Wonder or dream from distant land 
I carried to my country’s strand 

And waited till the twilit norn 

Had found the name within her bourn— 

Then I could grasp it close and strong 
It blooms and shines now the front along . . . 

Once I returned from happy sail, 

I had a prize so rich and frail, 

She sought for long and tidings told: 

“No like of this these depths enfold." 

And straight it vanished from my hand, 

The treasure never graced my land . . . 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

After what we had noted earlier, we are tempted to con- 
centrate on the poem’s last line: “Where word breaks off no 
thing may be.” For this line makes the word of language, 
makes language itself bring itself to language, and says some- 
thing about the relation between word and thing. The con- 
tent of the final line can be transformed into a statement, thus: 
“No thing is where the word breaks off.” Where something 
breaks off, a breach, a diminution has occurred. To diminish 
means to take away, to cause a lack. “ Breaks off” means “is 
lacking.” No thing is where the word is lacking, that word 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



6l 



which names the given thing. What does “to name*’ signify? 
We might answer: to name means to furnish something with 
a name. And what is a name? A designation that provides 
something with a vocal and written sign, a cipher. And what 
is a sign? Is it a signal? Or a token? A marker? Or a hint? Or 
all of these and something else besides? We have become 
very slovenly and mechanical in our understanding and use of 
signs. 

Is the name, is the word a sign? Everything depends on how 
we think of what the words “sign" and “name" say. Even in 
these slight pointers we now begin to sense the drift that we 
are getting into when the word is put into language as word, 
language as language. That the poem, too, has name in mind 
when it says word, is said in the second stanza: 

And waited till the twilit nom 

Had found the name within her bourn— 

Meanwhile, both the finder of the name, the nom of our 
poem, and the place where the name is found, her bourn, 
make us hesitant to understand “name" in the sense of a 
mere designation. It could be that the name and the naming 
word are here intended rather in the sense we know from 
such expressions as “in the name of the King" or “in the name 
of God.” Gottfried Benn begins one of his poems: "In the 
name of him who bestows the hours." Here “in the name" 
says “at the call, by the command." The terms “name" and 
“word" in George’s poem are thought differently and more 
deeply than as mere signs. But what am I saying? Is there 
thinking, too, going on in a poem? Quite so— in a poem of 
such rank thinking is going on, and indeed thinking without 
science, without philosophy. If that is true, then we may and 
in fact must, with all the self-restraint and circumspection 
that are called for, give more reflective thought to that closing 
line we first picked out from the poem “The Word." 

Where w'ord breaks off no thing may be. 

We ventured the paraphrase: No thing is where the word 




62 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



is lacking. “Thing” is here understood in the traditional broad 
sense, as meaning anything that in any way is. In this sense 
even a god is a thing. Only where the word for the thing 
has been found is the thing a thing. Only thus is it. Accord- 
ingly we must stress as follows: no thing is where the word, 
that is, the name is lacking. The word alone gives being to 
the thing. Yet how can a mere word accomplish this— to bring 
a thing into being? The true situation is obviously the reverse. 
Take the sputnik. This thing, if such it is, is obviously inde- 
pendent of that name which was later tacked on to it. But 
perhaps matters are different with such things as rockets, 
atom bombs, reactors and the like, different from what the 
poet names in the first stanza of the first triad: 

Wonder or dream from distant land 

I carried to my country’s strand 

Still, countless people look upon this “thing” sputnik, too, 
as a wonder, this “thing” that races around in a worldless 
“world”— space; to many people it was and still is a dream- 
wonder and dream of this modern technology which would 
be the last to admit the thought that what gives things their 
being is the word. Actions not words count in the calculus of 
planetary calculation. What use are poets? And yet . . . 

Let us for once refrain from hurried thinking. Is not even 
this “thing” what it is and the way it is in the name of its 
name? Certainly. If that hurry, in the sense of the technical 
maximization of all velocities, in whose time-space modern 
technology and apparatus can alone be what they are— if that 
hurry had not bespoken man and ordered him at its call, if 
that call to such hurry had not challenged him and put him 
at bay, if the word framing that order and challenge had not 
spoken: then there would be no sputnik. No thing is where 
the word is lacking. Thus the puzzle remains: the word of 
language and its relation to the thing, to every thing that is 
—that it is and the way it is. 

This is why we consider it advisable to prepare for a pos- 
sibility of undergoing an experience with language. This is 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 63 

why we listen now more attentively where such an experience 
is put into lofty and noble language. We listen to the poem 
that we read. Did we hear it? Barely. We have merely picked 
up the last line— and done so almost crudely— and have even 
ventured to rewrite it into an unpoetical statement: No thing 
is where the word is lacking. We could go further and propose 
this statement: something is only where the appropriate and 
therefore competent word names a thing as being, and so 
establishes the given being as a being. Does this mean, also, 
that there is being only where the appropriate word is speak- 
ing? Where does the word derive its appropriateness? The poet 
says nothing about it. But the content of the closing line does 
after all include the statement: The being of anything that is 
resides in the word. Therefore this statement holds true: 
Language is the house of Being. By this procedure, we would 
seem to have adduced from poetry the most handsome con- 
firmation for a principle of thinking which we had stated at 
some time in the past— and in truth would have thrown every- 
thing into utter confusion. We would have reduced poetry 
to the servant’s role as documentary proof for our thinking, 
and taken thinking too lightly; in fact we would already 
have forgotten the whole point: to undergo an experience 
with language. 

Therefore, we now restore to integrity, in its original place 
in the poem’s last stanza, the lines which we had first picked 
out and rewritten. 

So 1 renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

The poet, normally very sparing with his punctuation, has 
put a colon after “see.” One would expect, then, something 
to follow which speaks in what the grammarians call direct 
discourse. 



So I renounced and sadly sec: 
Where word breaks off no thing is. 



But Stefan George does not say “is,” he says “may be.” In keep- 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



64 

ing with his practice elsewhere, he could omit the colon, an 
omission that would almost be more appropriate for the in- 
direct discourse— if that is what it is— in the last line. Still, 
many precedents can be cited, presumably, for George's usage, 
for example a passage from Goethe's “Introduction to the Out- 
line of a Theory of Color." There we find: 

In order that we may not appear overly timid by trying to avoid 
an explanation, we would revise what we said first, as follows: 
that color be an elementary natural phenomenon for the sense 
of sight. . . . 

Goethe regards the words after the colon as the explanation 
of what color is, and says: “Color be . . . But what is the 
situation in the last stanza of George’s poem? Here we have 
to do not with a theoretical explanation of a natural phe- 
nomenon, but with a renunciation. 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

Do the words after , the colon say what the substance of the 
renunciation is? Does the poet renounce the fact that no thing 
may be where the word breaks off? Exactly the opposite. The 
renunciation he has learned implies precisely that the poet 
admits that no thing may be where the word breaks off. 

Why all these artful explications? The matter, after all, is 
clear. No, nothing is clear; but everything is significant. In 
what way? In this way, that what matters is for us to hear 
how, in the poem’s last stanza, the whole of that experience 
is concentrated which the poet has undergone with the word 
—and that means with language as well; and that we must be 
careful not to force the vibration of the poetic saying into 
the rigid groove of a univocal statement, and so destroy it. 

The last line, “Where word breaks off no thing may be,’’ 
could then still have another meaning than that of a statement 
and affirmation put in indirect discourse, which says that no 
thing is where the word is lacking. 

What follows the colon does not name what the poet re- 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 65 

nounces; rather, it names the realm into which the renuncia- 
tion must enter; it names the call to enter into that relation 
between thing and word which has now been experienced. 
What the poet learned to renounce is his formerly cherished 
view regarding the relation of thing and word. His renuncia- 
tion concerns the poetic relation to the word that he had 
cultivated until then. If so, the “may be” in the line, “Where 
word breaks off no thing may be,” would grammatically 
speaking not be the subjunctive of “is,” but a kind of impera- 
tive, a command which the poet follows, to keep it from then 
on. If so, the “may be” in the line, “Where word breaks off 
no thing may be,” would mean: do not henceforth admit any 
thing as being where the word breaks off. In the “may be” 
understood as a command, the poet avows to himself the self- 
denial he has learned, in which he abandons the view that 
something may be even if and even while the word for it is 
still lacking. What does renunciation mean? It is equivalent 
to “abdication.” Here the root word is the Latin dicere , to 
say, the Greek deiknumi , to show, point out, indicate. In his 
renunciation, the poet abdicates his former relation to the 
word. Nothing more? No. There is in the abdication itself 
already an avowal, a command to which he denies himself 
no longer. 

Now it would be just as forced to claim that the imperative 
interpretation of “may be” is the only possible one. Pre- 
sumably one meaning and the other of “may be” vibrate and 
mingle in the poetic saying: a command as appeal, and sub- 
mission to it. 

The poet has learned renunciation. He has undergone an 
experience. With what? With the thing and its relation to 
the word. But the title of the poem is simply “The Word.” 
The decisive experience is that which the poet has under- 
gone with the word— and with the word inasmuch as it alone 
can bestow a relation to a thing. Stated more explicitly, the 
poet has experienced that only the w r ord makes a thing appear 
as the thing it is, and thus lets it be present. The word avows 
itself to the poet as that which holds and sustains a thing 




66 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



in its being. The poet experiences an authority, a dignity of 
the word than which nothing vaster and loftier can be 
thought. But the word is also that possession with which 
the poet is trusted and entrusted as poet in an extraordinary 
way. The poet experiences his poetic calling as a call to the 
word as the source, the bourn of Being. The renunciation 
which the poet learns is of that special kind of fulfilled self- 
denial to which alone is promised what has long been con- 
cealed and is essentially vouchsafed already. 

The poet, then, ought to rejoice at such an experience, 
which brings to him the most joyful gift a poet can receive. 
Instead, the poem says: “So I renounced and sadly see." The 
poet, then, is merely depressed by his renunciation because 
it means a loss. Yet, as we have seen, the renunciation is not 
a loss. Nor does “sadly" refer to the substance of the renun- 
ciation, but rather to the fact that he has learned it. That 
sadness, however, is neither mere dejection nor despondency. 
True sadness is in harmony with what is most joyful— but in 
this way, that the greatest joy withdraws, halts in its with- 
drawal, and holds itself in reserve. By learning that renuncia- 
tion, the poet undergoes his experience with the word's lofty 
sway. He receives primal knowledge of what task is assigned 
to the poetic saying, what sublime and lasting matters are 
promised to it and yet withheld from it. The poet could never 
go through the experience he undergoes with the word if the 
experience were not attuned to sadness, to the mood of re- 
leasement into the nearness of what is withdrawn but at the 
same time held in reserve for an originary advent. 

These few pointers may suffice to make it clearer what 
experience the poet has undergone with language. Experience 
means eundo assequi , to obtain something along the way, to 
attain something by going on a way. What is it that the poet 
reaches? Not mere knowledge. He obtains entrance into the 
relation of word to thing. This relation is not, however, a 
connection between the thing that is on one side and the word 
that is on the other. The word itself is the relation which in 
each instance retains the thing within itself in such a manner 
that it “is" a thing. 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 67 

And yet, in making these statements, however broad their 
implications, we have done no more than sum up the expe- 
rience the poet has undergone with the word, instead of enter- 
ing into the experience itself. How did the experience happen? 
We are guided toward the answer by that one little word 
which we have neglected so far in our discussion of the 
poem’s final stanza: 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

“So I renounced . . .” How? In the way the first six stanzas 
say it. What we have just noted concerning the last stanza 
may shed some light on the first six. They must speak for 
themselves, of course, from within the totality of the poem. 

In these six stanzas there speaks the experience that the poet 
undergoes with language. Something comes to pass for him, 
strikes him, and transforms his relation to the word. It is thus 
necessary first to mention the relation to language in which the 
poet stood before the experience. It speaks in the first three 
stanzas. The last line of the third stanza trails off in an ellipsis, 
and so marks off the first triad from the second. The fourth 
stanza then opens the second triad— rather abruptly, with the 
word “Once,” taken here in its primary meaning: one time. 
The second triad tells what the poet experiences once and for 
all. To experience is to go along a way. The way leads through 
a landscape. The poet's land belongs within that landscape, as 
does the dwelling of the twilit norn, ancient goddess of fate. 
She dwells on the strand, the edge of the poetic land which is 
itself a boundary, a march. The twilit norn watches over her 
bourn, the well in whose depths she searches for the names she 
would bring forth from it. Word, language, belongs within the 
domain of this mysterious landscape in which poetic saying 
borders on the fateful source of speech. At first, and for long, 
it seems as though the poet needed only to bring the wonders 
that enthrall and the dreams that enrapture him to the well- 
spring of language, and there in unclouded confidence let the 
words come forth to him that fit all the wonderful and dream- 
like things whose images have come to him. In a former time, 




68 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



the poet, emboldened as his poems turned out well, cherished 
the view that the poetic things, the wonders and dreams, had, 
even on their own, their well-attested standing within Being, 
and that no more was necessary than that his art now also find 
the word for them to describe and present them. At first, and 
for long, it seemed as though a word were like a grasp that 
fastens upon the things already in being and held to be in 
being, compresses and expresses them, and thus makes them 
beautiful. 

Wonder or dream from distant land 
I carried to my country’s strand 

And waited till the twilit norn 

Had found the name within her bourn— 

Then I could grasp it close and strong 
It blooms and shines now the front along . . . 

Wonders and dreams on the one hand, and on the other 
hand the names by which they are grasped, and the two fused— 
thus poetry came about. Did this poetry do justice to what is 
in the poet’s nature— that he must found what is lasting, in 
order that it may endure and be? 

But in the end the moment comes for Stefan George when 
the conventional self-assured poetic production suddenly breaks 
down and makes him think of Holderlin’s words: 

But what endures is founded by poets. 

For at one time, once, the poet— still filled with hope after a 
happy sail— reaches the place of the ancient goddess of fate and 
demands the name of the rich and frail prize that lies there 
plain in his hand. It is neither “wonder from afar” nor 
“dream.” The goddess searches long, but in vain. She gives 
him the tidings: 



"No like of this these depths enfold.” 

There is nothing in these depths that is like the prize so rich 
and frail which is plainly there in his hand. Such a word, which 
would let the prize lying there plainly be what it is— such a 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



69 

word would have to well up out of the secure depths reposing 
in the stillness of deep slumber. Only a word from such a 
source could keep the prize secure in the richness and frailty of 
its simple being. 

“No like of this these depths enfold.” 

And straight it vanished from my hand, 

The treasure never graced my land . . . 

The frail rich prize, already plainly in hand, does not reach 
being as a thing, it does not come to be a treasure, that is, a 
poetically secured possession of the land. The poet remains 
silent about the prize which could not become a treasure of 
his land, but which yet granted to him an experience with 
language, the opportunity to learn the renunciation in whose 
self-denial the relation of word to thing promises itself to him. 
The “prize so rich and frail” is contrasted with “wonder or 
dream from distant land.” If the poem is a poetic expression 
of Stefan George's own poetic way, we may surmise that the 
prize he had in mind was that sensitive abundance of sim- 
plicity which comes to the poet in his late years as what needs 
and assents to be said. The poem itself, which has turned out 
well, a lyric song of language, proves that he did learn the 
renunciation. 

But as for us, it must remain open whether we are capable 
of entering properly into this poetic experience. There is the 
danger that we will overstrain a poem such as this by thinking 
too much into it, and thereby debar ourselves from being 
moved by its poetry. Much greater of course— but who today 
would admit it?— is the danger that w r e will think too little, 
and reject the thought that the true experience wih language 
can only be a thinking experience, all the more so because the 
lofty poetry of all great poetic work always vibrates within a 
realm of thinking. But if what matters first of all is a thinking 
experience with language, then why this stress on a poetic 
experience? Because thinking in turn goes its ways in the 
neighborhood of poetry. It is well, therefore, to give thought 




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ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



to the neighbor, to him who dwells in the same neighborhood. 
Poetry and thought, each needs the other in its neighborhood, 
each in its fashion, when it comes to ultimates. In what region 
the neighborhood itself has its domain, each of them, thought 
and poetry, will define differently, but always so that they will 
find themselves within the same domain. But because we are 
caught in the prejudice nurtured through centuries that think- 
ing is a matter of ratiocination, that is, of calculation in the 
widest sense, the mere talk of a neighborhood of thinking to 
poetry is suspect. 

Thinking is not a means to gain knowledge. Thinking cuts 
furrows into the soil of Being. About 1875, Nietzsche once 
wrote (Grossoktav WW XI, 20): “Our thinking should have a 
vigorous fragrance, like a wheatfield on a summer’s night.” 
How many of us today still have the senses for that fragrance? 

By now, the two opening sentences of our lecture can be 
restated more clearly. This series of lectures bears the title 
“The Nature of Language.” It is intended to bring us face to 
face with a possibility of undergoing a thinking experience 
with language. Be it noted that we said a possibility. We are 
still only in the preliminaries, in an attempt, even though the 
title does not say so. That title, “The Nature of Language,” 
sounds rather presumptuous, as though we were about to 
promulgate reliable information concerning the nature of 
language. Besides, the title sounds altogether too trite, like 
“The Nature of Art,” “The Nature of Freedom,” “The Nature 
of Technology,” “The Nature of Truth,” “The Nature of 
Religion,” etc. etc. We are all getting somewhat surfeited with 
all this big production of natures, for reasons which we do not 
quite understand ourselves. But what if we were to get rid of 
the presumptuousness and triteness of the title by a simple 
device? Let us give the title a question mark, such that the 
whole of it is covered by that mark and hence has a different 
sound. It then runs: The Nature?— of Language? Not only 
language is in question now, but so is the meaning of nature— 
and what is more, the question now is whether and in what 
way nature (essential being) and language belong together. 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



7 1 

The Nature?— of Language? With the addition of the questions 
marks, all of the title's presumptuousness and triteness vanish. 
At the same time, one question calls forth the others. The 
following two questions arise at once: 

How are we to put questions to language when our relation 
to it is muddled, in any case undefined? How can we inquire 
about its nature, when it may immediately become a matter of 
dispute what nature means? 

No matter how many ways we may devise to get our inquiry 
into language and the investigation of its nature started, all 
our efforts will be in vain as long as we close our minds in one 
very important respect which by no means concerns only the 
questions here touched upon. 

If we put questions to language, questions about its nature, 
its being, then clearly language itself must already have been 
granted to us. Similarly, if we want to inquire into the being 
of language, then that which is called nature or being must 
also be already granted to us. Inquiry and investigation here 
and everywhere require the prior grant of whatever it is they 
approach and pursue with their queries. Every posing of every 
question takes place within the very grant of what is put in 
question. 

What do we discover when we give sufficient thought to the 
matter? This, that the authentic attitude of thinking is not a 
putting of questions— rather, it is a listening to the grant, the 
promise of what is to be put in question. But in the history of 
our thinking, asking questions has since the early days been 
regarded as the characteristic procedure of thinking, and not 
without good cause. Thinking is more thoughtful in propor- 
tion as it takes a more radical stance, as it goes to the radix , 
the root of all that is. The quest of thinking always remains 
the search for the first and ultimate grounds. Why? Because 
this, that something is and what it is, the persistent presence 
of being, has from of old been determined to be the ground 
and foundation. As all nature has the character of a ground, a 
search for it is the founding and grounding of the ground or 
foundation. A thinking that thinks in the direction of nature 




72 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



defined in this way is fundamentally a questioning. At the 
close of a lecture called “The Question of Technology/' given 
some time ago, I said: “Questioning is the piety of thinking.” 
“Piety” is meant here in the ancient sense: obedient, or sub- 
missive, and in this case submitting to what thinking has to 
think about. One of the exciting experiences of thinking is 
that at times it does not fully comprehend the new insights it 
has just gained, and does not properly see them through. Such, 
too, is the case with the sentence just cited that questioning 
is the piety of thinking. The lecture ending with that sentence 
was already in the ambiance of the realization that the true 
stance of thinking cannot be to put questions, but must be to 
listen to that which our questioning vouchsafes— and all ques- 
tioning begins to be a questioning only in virtue of pursuing 
its quest for essential being. Accordingly, the title of these 
lectures, even if we provide it with a question mark, does not 
thereby alone become the title for an experience of thinking. 
But there it is, waiting to be completed in terms of what we 
have just remarked concerning the true attitude of thinking. 
No matter how we put our questions to language about its 
nature, first of all it is needful that language vouchsafe itself 
to us. If it does, the nature of language becomes the grant of 
its essential being, that is, the being of language becomes the 
language of being. 

Our title, “The Nature of Language,” has now lost even its 
role as title. What it says is the echo of a thinking experience, 
the possibility of which we are trying to bring before us: the 
being of language— the language of being. 

In the event that this statement— if that is what it is— 
represents not merely a contrived and hence vacuous inversion, 
the possibility may emerge that we shall at the proper time 
substitute another word for “language” as well as for “nature.” 

The whole that now addresses us— the being of language: 
the language of being— is not a title, let alone an answer to a 
question. It becomes a guide word, meant to guide us on our 
way. On that way of thinking, the poetic experience with the 
word which we heard at the beginning is to be our companion. 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



73 



We have already had converse with it, we recall, with this 
result: the closing line, “Where word breaks off no thing may 
be," points to the relation of word and thing in this manner, 
that the word itself is the relation, by holding everything forth 
into being, and there upholding it. If the word did not have 
this bearing, the whole of things, the “world," would sink into 
obscurity, including the “I" of the poem, him who brings to 
his country’s strand, to the source of names, all the wonders and 
dreams he encounters. 

In order that we may hear the voice of Stefan George’s 
poetic experience with the word once more in another key, I 
shall in closing read Gottfried Benn’s two-stanza poem.* The 
tone of this poem is tauter and at the same time more vehe- 
ment, because it is abandoned and at the same time resolved 
in the extreme. The poem’s title is a characteristic and pre- 
sumably intentional variation: 

A Word 

A word, a phrase—: from cyphers rise 
Life recognized, a sudden sense, 

The sun stands still, mute are the skies. 

And all compacts it, stark and dense. 

A word— a gleam, a flight, a spark, 

A thrust of flames, a stellar trace— 

And then again— immense— the dark 
Round world and I in empty space. 

11 

These three lectures are intended to bring us face to face 
with a possibility of undergoing an experience with language. 
To experience something means to attain it along the way, by 
going on a way. To undergo an experience with something 
means that this something, which we reach along the way in 
order to attain it, itself pertains to us, meets and makes its 



• The translation, bv Richard F.xner. is taken from Gottfried Benn .Primal 
I'ision, edited by E. B. Ashton, p. 251. Reprinted by permission of New 
Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. (Tr.) 




I 



74 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

appeal to us, in that it transforms us into itself. 

Because our goal is to experience, to be underway, let us 
give thought to the way today, in this lecture leading from the 
first over to the third lecture. But because most of you here are 
primarily engaged in scientific thinking, a prefactory remark 
will be in order. The sciences know the way to knowledge by 
the term “method/' Method, especially in today's modern sci- 
entific thought, is not a mere instrument serving the sciences; 
rather, it has pressed the sciences into its own service. Nietzsche 
was the first to recognize this situation, with all its vast implica- 
tions, and to give it expression in the notes that follow. These 
notes are found in his literary remains, as numbers 466 and 469 
of The Will to Power . The first note runs: “It is not the victory 
of science that distinguishes our nineteenth century, but the 
victory of scientific method over science." 

The other note begins with this sentence: “The most valu- 
able insights are gained last of all; but the most valuable in- 
sights are the methods ." 

Nietzsche himself, too, gained this insight into the relation 
of method to science last of all— to wit, in the last year of his 
lucid life, 1888, in Turin. 

In the sciences, not only is the theme drafted, called up by 
the method, it is also set up within the method and remains 
within the framework of the method, subordinated to it. The 
furious pace at which the sciences are swept along today— they 
themselves don't know whither— comes from the speed-up drive 
of method with all its potentialities, a speed-up that is more 
and more left to the mercy of technology. Method holds all the 
coercive power of knowledge. The theme is a part of the 
method. 

But in thinking, the situation is different from that of scien- 
tific representation. In thinking there is neither method nor 
theme, but rather the region, so called because it gives its realm 
and free reign* to what thinking is given to think. Thinking 
abides in that country, walking the ways of that country. Here 

'“die Gegend . . • gegnet"; for Heidegger’s own remarks on his use of the 
word, see his Discourse on Thinking (tr. J. M. Anderson 8: E. H. Freund; 
New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 65-66. (Tr.) 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



75 



the way is part of the country and belongs to it. From the point 
of view of the sciences, it is not just difficult but impossible to 
see this situation. If in what follows we reflect, then, upon the 
way of thoughtful experience with language, we are not under- 
taking a methodological consideration. We are even now walk- 
ing in that region, the realm that concerns us. 

We speak and speak about language. What we speak of, lan- 
guage, is always ahead of us. Our speaking merely follows 
language constantly. Thus we are continually lagging behind 
what we first ought to have overtaken and taken up in order to 
speak about it. Accordingly, when we speak of language we 
remain entangled in a speaking that is persistently inadequate. 
This tangle debars us from the matters that are to make them- 
selves known to our thinking. But this tangle, which our think- 
ing must never take too lightly, drops away as soon as we take 
notice of the peculiar properties of the way of thought, that is, 
as soon as we look about us in the country where thinking 
abides. This country is everywhere open to the neighborhood 
of poetry. 

As we give our mind to the way of thinking, we must give 
thought to this neighborhood. Taken at its surface value and 
recounted, our first lecture deals with three matters: 

First, it points to a poetic experience with language. The 
pointer is limited to a few remarks about Stefan George’s 
poem "The Word.” 

Next, the lecture characterizes the experience, which to pre- 
pare is our task here, as a thinking experience. Where thinking 
finds its way to its true destination, it comes to a focus in 
listening to the promise that tells us what there is for thinking 
to think upon. 

Every question posed to the matter of thinking, every inquiry 
for its nature, is already borne up by the grant of what is to 
come into question. Therefore the proper bearing of the think- 
ing which is needed now is to listen to the grant, not to ask 
questions. But since such listening is a listening for the coun- 
tering word, our listening to the grant for what we are to think 
always develops into our asking for the answer. Our charac- 
terization of thinking as a listening sounds strange, nor is it 




7 6 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



sufficiently clear for our present needs. However, this is what 
constitutes the peculiarity of listening: it receives its definite- 
ness and clarity from what indications the grant gives to it. But 
one thing is clear even now: the listening we have now in mind 
tends toward the grant, as Saying to which the nature of lan- 
guage is akin. If we succeed in gaining insight into the possi- 
bility of a thinking experience with language, it might clarify 
the sense in which thinking is a listening to the grant.® 

Finally, the first lecture covers a third point, the transforma- 
tion of the title of our lecture series. The transformation begins 
by removing the title’s presumptuousness and triteness, by 
adding a question mark which puts both language and essen- 
tial being into question, and turns the title into a query: The 
Nature?— of Language? 

Now the point of our attempt is to prepare a thinking ex- 
perience with language. But since to think is before all else to 
listen, to let ourselves be told something and not to ask ques- 
tions, we must strike the question mark out again when a 
thinking experience is at stake, and yet we can no longer simply 
return to the original form of the title. If we are to think 
through the nature of language, language must first promise 
itself to us, or must already have done so. Language must, in 
its own way, avow to us itself— its nature. Language persists as 
this avowal. We hear it constantly, of course, but do not give it 
thought. If we did not hear it everywhere, we could not use one 
single word of language. Language is active as this promise. 
The essential nature of language makes itself known to us as 
what is spoken, the language of its nature. But we cannot quite 
hear this primal knowledge, let alone “read” it. It runs: The 
being of language— the language of being.*® 

What we have just said is an imposition. If it were merely 

•‘‘...in welchem Si nm: das Denken cin Horen dcr /usage ist.“ Zusage 
as here used by Heidegger exceeds the meaning of the translation ‘‘grant.” 
Zusage is a Sage, a Saving. To put it brutally: Being says, and language 
follows Saying in speech. (Tr.) 

••‘‘Das Wesen der Sprache: Die Sprache des Wesens." The context here 
seems to demand the translation ''being” for Wesni, otherwise translated 
variously: nature, essential nature, or essence. (Tr.) 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



77 



an assertion, we could set out to prove its truth or falseness. 
That would be easier by far than to endure the imposition or 
make our peace with it. 

The being of language— the language of being. The demand 
that we experience this sentence thoughtfully would seem to 
stem from the lecture imposing it on us. But the imposition 
comes from another source. The transformation of the title is 
of such a kind that it makes the title disappear. What follows 
then is not a dissertation on language under a different head- 
ing. What follows is the attempt to take our first step into the 
country which holds possibilities of a thinking experience with 
language in readiness for us. In that country, thinking en- 
counters its neighborhood with poetry. We heard of a poetic 
experience with the word. It is concentrated in the language 
of the poem's last stanza: 



So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 



Through a brief commentary on the two preceding triads, 
we tried to gain an insight into the poetic way of this experi- 
ence. Just a look from afar at the poet’s way— surely we are not 
conceited enough to imagine that we have gone this way our- 
selves. For George’s poetic saying, in this poem and in the 
others that belong with it, is a going that is like a going away, 
after the poet had formerly spoken like a lawgiver and a 
herald. Thus this poem “The Word” rightly has its place in 
the last part of the last volume of poetry George published, 
Das Neue Reich , published in 1928. This last part is entitled 
“The Song.” The song is sung, not after it has come to be, but 
rather: in the singing the song begins to be a song. The song’s 
poet is the singer. Poetry is song. Hdlderlin, following the 
example of the ancients, likes to call poetry “song.” 

In his recently discovered hymn “Celebration of Peace,” 
Hdlderlin sings, at the beginning of the eighth stanza: 




7 « 



ON THE WAV TO LANGUAGE 



Much, from the morning onwards, 

Since we have been a discourse and have heard from 
one another. 

Has human kind learnt; but soon we shall be song.* 

Those who “have heard from one another’’— the ones and 
the others— are men and gods. The song celebrates the advent 
of the gods— and in that advent everything falls silent. Song is 
not the opposite of a discourse, but rather the most intimate 
kinship with it; for song, too, is language. In the preceding 
seventh stanza, Holderlin says: 

This is a law of fate, that each shall know all others, 

That when the silence returns there shall be a language too. 

In 1910, Norbert von Hellingrath, who was killed in action 
before Verdun in 1916, first published Holderlin’s Pindar 
translations from the manuscripts. In 1914, there followed the 
first publication of Holderlin’s late hymns. These two books 
hit us students like an earthquake. Stefan George, who had 
first directed Hellingrath's attention to Holderlin, now in 
turn received decisive inspiration from those first editions, as 
did Rilke. Since that time, George’s poetry comes closer and 
closer to song. Nietzsche's words in the third part of Thus 
Spoke Zarathustra, at the end of “The Great Longing,’’ are 
even then ringing in the poet’s ear: 

O my soul, now I have given you all, and even the last I had, 

and I have emptied all my hands to you: that I bade you sing , 

behold, that was the last 1 had. 

The final section of George’s Das Neue Reich , below the 
section title “ The Song begins with this motto: 

What I still ponder, and what I still frame, 

What I still love— their features are the same. 

The poet has stepped outside of his former “circle,” yet without 
renouncing the word; for he sings, and song remains discourse. 
The poet’s renunciation does not touch the word, but rather 

•Translation by Michael Hamburger, from Friedrich Holderlin: Poems 
and Fragments (Ann Arbor, 1966), p. 439. (Tr.) 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



79 



the relation of word to thing, more precisely: the mysterious- 
ness of that relation, which reveals itself as mystery at just that 
point where the poet wants to name a prize which he holds 
plainly in his hand. The poet does not say what sort of prize 
it is. We may recall that “prize" means a small and graceful 
gift intended for one's guest; or perhaps a present in token of 
special favor, which the recipient will henceforth carry on his 
person. “Prize," then, has to do with favor and with guest. Let 
us note also that that other poem, “Sea Song," together with 
“The Word," belongs under the heading “The Song" of the 
volume's last section. “Sea Song" begins: 

When on the verge with gentle fall 
Down dips the fire-reddened ball: 

Then on the dunes I pause to rest 
That I may see a cherished guest. 

The last line names the guest, yet does not name him. Like the 
guest, the prize remains nameless. And nameless remains also 
that highest favor which comes to the poet. The last poem in 
this last section has its say about the favor, sings it, but still 
does not name it. 

Prize, favor, guest, it says— but they are not named. Are they 
then kept secret? No. We can keep secret only what we know. 
The poet does not keep the names a secret. He does not know 
them. He admits it himself in that one verse which rings like a 
basso ostinato through all the songs: 

Wherein you hang— you do not know. 

The experience of this poet with the word passes into darkness, 
and even remains veiled itself. We must leave it so; but merely 
by thinking about the poetic experience in this way, we leave 
it in the neighborhood of thinking. However, we may not 
suppose that a thinking experience with language, rather than 
the poetic experience, will lead us to the light more quickly, 
and perhaps could lift the veil. What thinking can do here 
depends on whether and in what way it hears the granting 
saying in which the being of language speaks as the language 




8o 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



of being. However, it is not merely an expedient that our 
attempt to prepare for a thinking experience with language 
seeks out the neighborhood of poetry; for the attempt rests 
upon the supposition that poetry and thinking belong within 
one neighborhood. Perhaps this supposition corresponds to the 
imposition which we hear only vaguely so far: the being of 
language— the language of being. 

In order to uncover a possibility of undergoing a thinking 
experience with language, let us seek out the neighborhood in 
which poetry and thinking dwell. A strange beginning— we 
have so little experience with either. And yet we know them 
both. A great many things are known to us about poetry and 
thinking under the rubrics Poetry and Philosophy. Nor are we 
trying to find our way blindly into the neighborhood of poetry 
and thinking; a poem “The Word“ is already echoing in our 
ears, and thus we have our eyes on a poetic experience with 
language. With all due reservations we may sum it up in the 
saying of the renunciation: “Where word breaks off no thing 
may be.“ As soon as we consider that what is named here is the 
relation between thing and word, and with it the relation of 
language to an entity as such, we have called poetry over into 
the neighborliness of thinking. Thinking, however, sees 
nothing strange in that. In fact, the relation between thing 
and word is among the earliest matters to which Western 
thinking gives voice and word, and does so in the form of the 
relation between being and saying. This relation assaults 
thinking in such an overpowering manner that it announces 
itself in a single word. The word is logos. It speaks simultane- 
ously as the name for Being and for Saying. 

More overpowering still for us is the fact that here no 
thinking experience with language is being made, in the sense 
that language itself, as such, comes to word explicitly and 
according to that relation. From this observation we conclude: 
Stefan George’s poetic experience means something age-old, 
something that has struck thinking long ago and ever since has 
held it captive, though in a manner that has become both 
commonplace and indiscernible to us. Neither poetic experi- 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 8 1 

ence with the word nor the thinking experience with Saying 
gives voice to language in its essential being. 

Such is the situation, and this despite the fact that since 
the early days of Western thinking, and up into the late period 
of Stefan George’s poetic work, thinking has thought deep 
thoughts about language, and poetry has made stirring things 
into language. But we can only conjecture why it is that, none- 
theless, the being of language nowhere brings itself to word as 
the language of being. There is some evidence that the essential 
nature of language flatly refuses to express itself in words— in 
the language, that is, in which we make statements about 
language. If language everywhere withholds its nature in this 
sense, then such withholding is in the very nature of language. 
Thus language not only holds back when we speak it in the 
accustomed ways, but this its holding back is determined by 
the fact that language holds back its own origin and so denies 
its being to our usual notions. But then we may no longer say 
that the being of language is the language of being, unless the 
word “language” in the second phrase says something different, 
in fact something in which the withholding of the being of 
language— speaks. Accordingly, the being of language puts 
inself into language nonetheless, in its own most appropriate 
manner. We may avoid the issue no longer; rather, we must 
keep on conjecturing what the reason may be why the peculiar 
speech of language’s being passes unnoticed all too easily. Pre- 
sumably part of the reason is that the two kinds of utterance 
par excellence, poetry and thinking, have not been sought out 
in their proper habitat, their neighborhood. Yet we talk often 
enough about “poets and thinkers.”* By now, this phrase has 
become a vacuous cliche. Perhaps the “and” in “poetry and 
thinking” will receive its full meaning and definition if we 
will let it enter our minds that this “and” might signify the 
neighborhood of poetry and thought. 

We will, of course, immediately demand an explanation of 

•The characterization of the Germans as "the people of poets and 
thinkers/' familiar to every German schoollxjv. is of uncertain origin, 
though it is found in German literature as early as 1808. (Tr.) 




82 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



what “neighborhood” is supposed to mean here, and by what 
right we talk about such a thing. A neighbor, as the word itself 
tells us, is someone who dwells near to and with someone else. 
This someone else thereby becomes himself the neighbor of 
the one. Neighborhood, then, is a relation resulting from the 
fact that the one settles face to face with the other. Accordingly, 
the phrase of the neighborhood of poetry and thinking means 
that the two dwell face to face with each other, that the one 
has settled facing the other, has drawn into the other’s near- 
ness. This remark about what makes a neighborhood is by way 
of figurative talk. Or are we already saying something to the 
point? What, really, does “figurative talk” mean? We are quick 
to give the answer, never giving it a thought that we cannot 
claim to have a reliable formulation so long as it remains 
unclear what is talk and what is imagery, and in what way 
language speaks in images, if indeed language does speak so 
at all. Therefore we will here leave everything wide open. Let 
us stay with the most urgent issue, which is, to seek out the 
neighborhood of poetry and thinking— which now means the 
encounter of the two facing each other. 

Fortunately we do not need either to search for this neighbor- 
hood or to seek it out. We are already abiding in it. We move 
within it. The poet’s poem speaks to us. In our encounter with 
the poem, we have thought out a few things, though only in 
crude approximation. 

Where word breaks off no thing may be 

is what the poet’s renunciation says; we added that here the 
relation between thing and word comes to light, and further 
that thing here means anything that in any way has being, any 
being as such. About the “word” we also said that it not only 
stands in a relation to the thing, but that the word is what 
first brings that given thing, as the being that is, into this “is”; 
that the word is what holds the thing there and relates it and 
so to speak provides its maintenance with which to be a thing. 
Accordingly, we said, the word not only stands in a relation to 
the thing, but this “may be” itself is what holds, relates, and 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 83 

keeps the thing as thing; that the “may be,” as such keeper, 
is the relation itself. 

These thoughts about the poem may to some seem super- 
fluous, importunate, and forced. But the point here is to find, 
in the neighborhood of the poetic experience with the word, 
a possibility for a thinking experience with language. That 
means now and first: we must learn to heed that neighborhood 
itself in which poetry and thinking have their dwelling. But, 
strangely— the neighborhood itself remains invisible. The same 
thing happens in our daily lives. We live in a neighborhood, 
and yet we would be baffled if we had to say in what that 
neighborhood consists. But this perplexity is merely a particu- 
lar case, though perhaps an exceptionally good one, of the old 
encompassing perplexity in which all our thinking and saying 
finds itself always and everywhere. What is this perplexity we 
have in mind? This: we are not in a position— or if we are, 
then only rarely and just barely— to experience purely in its 
own terms a relation that obtains between two things, two 
beings. We immediately conceive the relation in terms of the 
things which in the given instance are related. We little under- 
stand how, in what way, by what means, and from where the 
relation comes about, and what it properly is qua relation. It 
remains correct, of course, to conceive of a neighborhood as a 
relation; and this notion applies also to the neighborhood of 
poetry and thinking. But the notion tells us nothing about 
whether poetry draws into the neighborhood of thinking, or 
thinking into that of poetry, or whether both are drawn into 
each other’s neighborhood. Poetry moves in the element of 
saying, and so does thinking. When we reflect on poetry, we 
find ourselves at once in that same element in which thinking 
moves. We cannot here decide flatly whether poetry is really 
a kind of thinking, or thinking really a kind of poetry. It 
remains dark to us what determines their real relation, and 
from what source what we so casually call the “real” really 
comes. But— no matter how we call poetry and thought to mind, 
in every case one and the same element has drawn close to us— 
saying— whether we pay attention to it or not. 




8 4 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



There is still more: poetry and thinking not only move 
within the element of saying, they also owe their saying to 
manifold experiences with language, experiences which we 
have hardly noticed, let alone collected. Where we did notice 
and collect them, we did so without adequate regard for just 
what concerns us more and more closely in our present reflec- 
tions: the neighborhood of poetry and thinking. Presumably 
this neighborhood is not a mere result after all, brought about 
only by the fact that poetry and thinking draw together into a 
face-to-face encounter; for the two belong to each other even 
before they ever could set out to come face to face one to the 
other. Saying is the same element for both poetry and thinking; 
but for both it was and still remains “element” in a different 
way than water is the element for the fish, or air for the bird- 
in a way that compels us to stop talking about element, since 
Saying does more than merely “bear up” poetry and thinking, 
more than afford them the region they traverse. 

All this is easily said, that is, put into words, to be sure, but 
difficult to experience especially for us moderns. What we try 
to reflect upon under the name of the neighborhood of poetry 
and thinking is vastly different from a mere inventory of 
notional relations. The neighborhood in question pervades 
everywhere our stay on this earth and our journey in it. But 
since modern thinking is ever more resolutely and exclusively 
turning into calculation, it concentrates all available energy 
and “interests” in calculating how man may soon establish 
himself in worldless cosmic space. This type of thinking is 
about to abandon the earth as earth. As calculation, it drifts 
more and more rapidly and obsessively tow r ard the conquest of 
cosmic space. This type of thinking is itself already the explo- 
sion of a power that could blast everything to nothingness. All 
the rest that follows from such thinking, the technical proc- 
esses in the functioning of the doomsday machinery, would 
merely be the final sinister dispatch of madness into senseless- 
ness. As early as 1917, Stefan George, in his great ode “The 
war” written during the First World War, said: “These are the 
fiery signs— not the tidings” ( Das Neue Reich , p. 29) . 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 85 

Our attempt to see the neighborhood itself of poetry and 
thinking has faced us with a peculiar difficulty. If we were 
thoughtless enough to let it pass, the distance that these lec- 
tures cover and our progress along that way would remain 
hazy. The difficulty is reflected in what has already brushed 
us in the first lecture, and meets us head-on in the present 
lecture. 

When we listen to the poet and, in our own fashion, consider 
what his renunciation says, we are already staying in the neigh- 
borhood of poetry and thinking; and yet again we are not, at 
least not so that we experience the neighborhood as such. We 
are not yet on our way to it. We must first turn, turn back to 
where we are in reality already staying. The abiding turn, back 
to where we already are, is infinitely harder than are hasty 
excursions to places where we are not yet and never will be, 
except perhaps as the monstrous creatures of technology, assim- 
ilated to machines. 

The step back into the sphere of human being demands 
other things than does the progress into the machine world. 

To turn back to where we are (in reality) already staying: 
that is how we must walk along the way of thinking which 
now becomes necessary. If we pay attention to the peculiar 
property of this way, the at first troublesome semblance of an 
entanglement fades away. We speak of language, but con- 
stantly seem to be speaking merely about language, while in 
fact we are already letting language, fro?n within language, 
speak to us, in language, of itself, saying its nature. This is 
why we must not prematurely break off the dialogue we have 
begun with the poetic experience we have heard, for fear 
that thinking would not allow poetry to find its own words 
any longer, but would force everything into the way of 
thinking. 

We must dare to move back and forth within the neighbor- 
hood of the poem, and of its closing stanza into which the 
poem gathers. We try anew to hear what is being said 
poetically. We shall assume that demands may be made on 
thinking, and with that we begin. 




86 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

Once again we revise the last line in such a way that it sounds 
almost like a statement, even a theorem: No thing is where 
the word is lacking. A thing is not until, and is only where, 
the word is not lacking but is there. But if the word is, then 
it must itself also be a thing, because “thing” here means 
whatever is in some way: “Wonder or dream from distant 
land.” Or could it be that when the word speaks, qua word it 
is not a thing— in no way like what is? Is the word a nothing? 
But then how is it supposed to help the thing to be? Whatever 
bestows being, must it not “be” itself, all the more and before 
all else, be most in being, more so than all the things that 
are? We cannot see it any other way as long as we calculate, 
that is, compute the sufficient reason which rationalizes beings 
as the result of reason, reason’s effects, and thereby satisfies our 
conceptualizations. Accordingly, if the word is to endow the 
thing with being, it too must be before any thing is— thus it 
must inescapably be itself a thing. We would then be faced 
with the situation that one thing, the word, conveys being to 
another thing. But, says the poet, “Where word breaks off 
no thing may be.” Word and thing are different, even dis- 
parate. We suppose that we have understood the poet on first 
hearing; but no sooner have we so to speak touched the line 
thoughtfully than what it says fades away into darkness. The 
word, which itself is supposed not to be a thing, not anything 
that “is,” escapes us. It seems as though what is happening 
here is just like what happens with the prize in the poem. Does 
the poet perhaps mean that the “prize so rich and frail” is 
the word itself? In that case Stefan George, sensing with a 
poet’s intuition that the word itself could not be a thing, 
would have asked the norn to give the word for the prize, for 
the word itself. But the goddess of fate tells him, “No like of 
this these depths enfold.” 

The word for the word can never be found in that place 
where fate provides the language that names and so endows all 
beings, so that they may be, radiant and flourishing in their 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 87 

being. The word for the word is truly a prize, yet it can never 
be won for the poet's land. Can it be won for thinking? When 
thinking tries to pursue the poetic w r ord, it turns out that the 
word, that saying has no being. Yet our current notions resist 
such an imputation. Everybody, after all, sees and hears words 
in writing and in sound. They are; they can be like things, 
palpable to the senses. To offer a crude example, we only need 
to open a dictionary. It is full of printed things. Indeed, 
all kinds of things. Plenty of terms, and not a single word, 
Because a dictionary can neither grasp nor keep the word by 
which the terms become words and speak as words. Where 
does the word, where does Saying belong? 

Thus the poetic experience with the word gives us a mean- 
ingful hint. The word— no thing, nothing that is, no being; 
but we have an understanding of things when the word for 
them is available. Then the thing “is.” Yet, what about this 
“is”? The thing is. The “is” itself— is it also a thing, a step 
above the other, set on top of it like a cap? The “is” cannot 
be found anywhere as a thing attached to a thing. As with 
the word, so it is with the “is.” It belongs no more among 
the things that are than does the word. 

Of a sudden, we are awakening from the slumber of hastily 
formed opinions, and are struck by the sight of something 
other. 

What the poetic experience with language says of the word 
implies the relation beween the “is” which itself is not, and 
the word which is in the same case of not being a being. 

Neither the “is” nor the word attain to thinghood, to Being, 
nor does the relation between “is” and the word, the word 
whose task it is to give an “is” in each given instance. But 
even so, neither the “is” nor the word and its Saying can be 
cast out into the void of mere nothingness. What, then, does 
the poetic experience with the word show as our thinking 
pursues it? It points to something thought-provoking and 
memorable with which thinking has been charged from the 
beginning, even though in a veiled mannner. It shows what 
is there and yet “is” not. The word, too, belongs to what is 




88 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



there— perhaps not merely “too” but first of all, and even in 
such a way such that the word, the nature of the word, con- 
ceals within itself that which gives being. If our thinking 
does justice to the matter, then we may never say of the word 
that it is, but rather that it gives— not in the sense that words 
are given by an "it,” but that the word itself gives. The word 
itself is the giver. What does it give? To go by the poetic 
experience and by the most ancient tradition of thinking, the 
word gives Being. Our thinking, then, would have to seek 
the word, the giver which itself is never given, in this "there 
is that which gives.” 

We are familiar with the expression "there is, there are” in 
many usages, such as "There are strawberries on the sunny 
slope,” il y a , es gibt, there are, strawberries; we can find 
them as something that is there on the slope. In our present 
reflection, the expression is used differently. We do not mean 
"There is the word”— we mean “by virtue of the gift of the 
word there is, the word gives . . .” The whole spook about 
the "givenness” of things, which many people justly fear, is 
blown away. But what is memorable remains, indeed it only 
now comes to radiant light. This simple, ungraspable situa- 
tion which we call up with the phrase "it, the word, gives,” 
reveals itself as what is properly worthy of thought, but for 
whose definition all standards are still lacking in every way. 
Perhaps the poet knows them. But his poetry has learned 
renunciation, yet has lost nothing by the renunciation. Mean- 
while, the prize escapes him nonetheless. Indeed. But it 
escapes him in the sense that the word is denied. The denial 
is a holding-back. And here precisely it comes to light how 
astounding a power the word possesses. The prize does in 
no w'ay crumble into a nothing that is good for nothing. The 
word does not sink into a flat inability to say. The poet does 
not abdicate the word. It is true, the prize does withdraw 
into the mysterious wonder that makes us wonder. This is 
why, as the preamble to "The song” says, the poet is still 
pondering, now even more than before; he is still framing 
an utterance, fitting together a saying, otherwise than he did 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 89 

before. He sings songs. The very first song he sings, and which 
remains untitled, sings nothing less than the intuited secret 
of the word, which in denying itself brings near to us its with- 
held nature. This song sings the word’s secret wonderingly, 
that is, poetically inquiring, in three stanzas of three lines 
each: 

What bold-easy step 

Walks through the innermost realm 

Of grandame’s fairy tale garden? 

What rousing call does the bugler’s 
Silver horn cast in the tangle 
Of the Saga's deep slumber? 

What secret breath 
of yesterday’s melancholy 
Seeps into the soul? 

Stefan George normally writes all words with small initials, 
except only those at the beginning of a line.* We notice that 
in this poem, one single word appears with a capital initial — 
the word in the last line of the middle stanza: the Saga— Saying. 
The poet might have called the poem “Saying.” He did not do 
so. The poem sings of the mysterious nearness of the far- 
tarrying power of the word. Something entirely different is 
said in the poem in a completely different manner, and yet 
the Same is said as has been thought earlier concerning the 
relation of “is” and the word that is no thing. 

What about the neighborhood of poetry and thinking? We 
stand confused between two wholly different kinds of saying. 
In the poet’s song, the word appears as the mysterious wonder. 
Our thinking reflection of the relation between the “is” and 
the word that is no thing is faced with something memorable 
whose features fade into indefiniteness. In the song, wonder 
appears in a fulfilled, singing saying: in our reflection some- 
thing memorable appears in a scarcely definable— but cer- 
tainly not a singing— saying. How can this be a neighborhood, 
under which poetry and thinking live in close nearness? It 

•In standard German usage, all nouns arc capitalized. (Tr.) 




90 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

would seem that the two diverge just as far as can be. 

But we should become familiar with the suggestion that 
the neighborhood of poetry and thinking is concealed within 
this farthest divergence of their Saying. This divergence is 
their real face-to-face encounter. 

We must discard the view that the neighborhood of poetry 
and thinking is nothing more than a garrulous cloudy mix- 
ture of two kinds of saying in which each makes clumsy bor- 
rowings from the other. Here and there it may seem that way. 
But in truth, poetry and thinking are in virtue of their nature 
held apart by a delicate yet luminous difference, each held in 
its own darkness: two parallels, in Greek para allelo , by one 
another, against one another, transcending, surpassing one 
another each in its fashion. Poetry and thinking are not 
separated if separation is to mean cut off into a relational 
void. The parallels intersect in the infinite. There they inter- 
sect with a section that they themselves do not make. By 
this section, they are first cut, engraved into the design of their 
neighboring nature. That cut assigns poetry and thinking 
to their nearness to one another. The neighborhood of poetry 
and thinking is not the result of a process by which poetry 
and thinking— no one knows from where— first draw near to 
each other and thus establish a nearness, a neighborhood. 
The nearness that draws them near is itself the occurrence 
of appropriation by which poetry and thinking are directed 
into their proper nature. 

But if the nearness of poetry and thinking is one of Saying, 
then our thinking arrives at the assumption that the occur- 
rence of appropriation acts as that Saying in which language 
grants its essential nature to us. Its vow is not empty. It has in 
fact already struck its target— whom else but man? For man 
is man only because he is granted the promise of language, 
because he is needful to language, that he may speak it. 

Ill 

These three lectures are devoted to an attempt to bring us 
face to face with a possibility of undergoing an experience 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



9 1 



with language. The first lecture gives ear to a poetic expe- 
rience with the word, and traces it in thought. Simply by 
doing so it moves within the neighborhood of poetry and 
thinking. There it goes back and forth. 

The second lecture reflects on the way of this movement. 
To the modern mind, whose ideas about everything are 
punched out in the die presses of technical-scientific calcula- 
tion, the object of knowledge is part of the method. And 
method follows what is in fact the utmost corruption and 
degeneration of a way. 

For reflective thinking, on the contrary, the way belongs 
in what we here call the country or region. Speaking allu- 
sively, the country, that which counters, is the clearing that 
gives free rein, where all that is cleared and freed, and all 
that conceals itself, together attain the open freedom. The 
freeing and sheltering character of this region lies in this way- 
making movement, which yields those ways that belong to 
the region. 

To a thinking so inclined that reaches out sufficiently, the 
way is that by which we reach— which lets us reach what 
reaches out for us by touching us, by being our concern.* 
The way is such, it lets us reach what concerns and summons 
us. Now it would seem that by thinking in this fashion of 
what summons us, we manipulate language willfully. Indeed it 
is willful to gauge the sense in which we here speak of "sum- 
moning” by the usual understanding of the word. But the 
reflective use of language cannot be guided by the common, 
usual understanding of meanings; rather, it must be guided 
by the hidden riches that language holds in store for us, so 
that these riches may summon us for the saying of language. 



•The following passage, a gloss on the German verb belangen (to con- 
cern, to summon) and its German cognates, has here l>een omitted in the 
translated text: "Wir verstchen freilich das Zeitwort ‘Ixdangcn’ nur in 
einem gewohnlichen Sinne, der meint: sich jemanden vomehmen zur 
Vcmehmung, zum Verhdr. Wir konnen aber auch das Be-langcn in einem 
hohen Sinne denken: be-langen, be-rufen, be-hiiten. Ixr-haltcn. Der Be-lang: 
das, was, nach unserem Wesen auslangcnd, es verlangt und so gclangen lasst 
in das, wohin es gchort.'* (Tr.) 




92 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



The country offers ways only because it is country. It gives 
way, moves us. We hear the words “give way” in this sense: 
to be the original giver and founder of ways.* 

The word "way” probably is an ancient primary word that 
speaks to the reflective mind of man. The key word in Laotse’s 
poetic thinking is Tao, which "properly speaking” means way. 
But because we are prone to think of "way” superficially, as a 
stretch connecting two places, our word "way” has all too 
rashly been considered unfit to name what Tao says. Tao is 
then translated as reason, mind, raison , meaning, logos. 

Yet Tao could be the way that gives all ways, the very 
source of our power to think what reason, mind, meaning, 
logos properly mean to say— properly, by their proper nature. 
Perhaps the mystery of mysteries of thoughtful Saying conceals 
itself in the word "way,” Tao , if only we will let these names 
return to what they leave unspoken, if only we are capable 
of this, to allow them to do so. Perhaps the enigmatic power 
of today’s reign of method also, and indeed preeminently, 
stems from the fact that the methods, notwithstanding their 
efficiency, are after all merely the runoff of a great hidden 
stream which moves all things along and makes way for every- 
thing. All is way. 

These lectures make their way within the neighborhood of 
poetry and thinking, underway on the lookout for a possibility 
of undergoing an experience with language. 

On the way, we assume that the neighborhood of which we 
have spoken is the place that gives us room to experience how 
matters stand with language. Anything that gives us room and 



•Again, a passage has been omitted in the translated text— a gloss on the 
German verb bewegen (usually translated “to move"), its German cognates, 
etymology, and uses in the Swabian dialect. The passage runs: “Sonst 
verstehen wir bewegen irn Sinne von: bewirken. das etwas seinen Ort 
wechselt.zu- oderabnimmt, uberhaupt sich andert. Bc-w£gen aber heisst: die 
Gegend mit Wegen versehen. Xach altem Sprachgebrauch der schwabisch* 
alemannischen Mundart kann "wegen" besagen: einen Weg bahnen, z. B. 
durch tief verschneites Land. / Wegen und Be-wegen als Weg*bereiten und 
Weg als das Gelangenlassen gehoren in den selben Quell- und Strombereich 
wie die Zeitwdrter: wiegen und wagen und wogen." (Tr.) 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



93 



allows us to do something gives us a possibility, that is, it 
gives what enables us. “Possibility” so understood, as what 
enables, means something else and something more than mere 
opportunity. 

The third lecture intends to bring us properly face to face 
with a possibility, that is, to enable us to undergo an experi- 
ence with language. What is necessary here is not only that 
on our chosen way we stay within the neighborhood of poetry 
and thinking. We also must look about us in this neighbor- 
hood, to see whether and in what manner it shows us something 
that transforms our relation to language. But of the way which 
is to lead us to the source of this possibility, it was said that 
it leads us only to where we already are. The “only" here does 
not mean a limitation, but rather points to this way's pure 
simplicity. The way allows us to reach what concerns us, in 
that domain where we are already staying. Why then, one may 
ask, still find a way to it? Answer: because where we already 
are, we are in such a way that at the same time we are not 
there, because we ourselves have not yet properly reached what 
concerns our being, not even approached it. The way that lets 
us reach where we already are, differing from all other ways, 
calls for an escort that runs far ahead. That escort is implied 
in the key word which we named in passing at the end of the 
first lecture. We have not yet commented on this directive 
character of the guiding key word. Nor could we have done so. 
For the second lecture had first to direct us straight to the coun- 
try where the way belongs that is accompanied by the onward- 
beckoning guide-word. That country makes itself known in the 
neighborhood of poetry and thinking. Neighborhood means: 
dwelling in nearness. Poetry and thinking are modes of saying. 
The nearness that brings poetry and thinking together into 
neighborhood we call Saying. Here, we assume, is the essential 
nature of language. “To say," related to the Old Norse “saga,” 
means to show: to make appear, set free, that is, to offer and 
extend what we call World, lighting and concealing it. This 
lighting and hiding proffer of the world is the essential being 
of Saying. The guide-word on the way within the neighbor- 




94 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



hood of poetry and thinking holds an indication which we 
would follow to come to that nearness by which this neighbor- 
hood is defined. 

The guide-word runs: 

The being of language: 

The language of being. 

The guide-word holds the primal tidings of linguistic nature. 
We must now try to hear it more clearly, to make it more 
indicative of the way that lets us reach what even now reaches 
and touches us. 

The being of language: the language of being. 

Two phrases held apart by a colon, each the inversion of 
the other. If the whole is to be a guide- word, then this colon 
must indicate that what precedes it opens into what follows it. 
Within the whole there plays a disclosure and a beckoning 
that point to something which we, coming from the first turn 
of phrase, do not suspect in the second; for that second phrase 
is more than just a rearrangement of the words in the first. If 
so, then what the words “being” and “language” on either side 
of the colon say is not only not identical, but even the form of 
the phrase is different in each case. 

An explanation within the scope of grammatical, that is 
logical and metaphysical, ways of thinking may bring us a little 
closer to the matter, though it can never do justice to the 
situation that the guide-word names. 

In the phrase before the colon, “the being of language,” 
language is the subject whose being is to be determined. What 
something is, to ti estin, whatness, comprises since Plato what 
one commonly calls the “nature” or essentia , the essence of a 
thing. Essence so understood becomes restricted to what is later 
called the concept, the idea or mental representation by means 
of which we propose to ourselves and grasp what a thing is. 
Understood less strictly, the phrase before the colon then says: 
we shall comprehend what language is as soon as we enter into 
what the colon, so to speak, opens up before us. And that is 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



95 



the language of being. In this phrase being, “essence” assumes 
the role of the subject that possesses language. However, the 
word “being” now no longer means what something is. We hear 
“being” as a verb, as in “being present” and “being absent.” 
“To be” means to perdure and persist. But this says more than 
just “last and abide.” “It is in being” means “it persists in its 
presence,” and in its persistence concerns and moves us. Such 
being, so conceived, names what persists, what concerns us in 
all things, because it moves and makes a way for all things. 
Therefore, the second phrase in the guide-word, “the language 
of being,” says this, that language belongs to this persisting 
being, is proper to what moves all things because that is its 
most distinctive property. What moves all things moves in that 
it speaks. But it remains quite obscure just how we are to think 
of essential being, wholly obscure how it speaks, and supremely 
obscure, therefore, what to speak means. This is the crux of 
our reflection on the nature of language. Yet this reflection is 
already underway along a certain way— the way within the 
neighborhood of poetry and thinking. The guide-word gives 
us a hint on this way, but not an answer. But that hint— where 
does it point? It points only to what defines the neighborhood 
of poetry and thinking as a neighborhood. Neighborliness, 
dwelling in nearness, receives its definition from nearness. 
Poetry and thinking, however’, are modes of saying, indeed 
preeminent modes. If these two modes of saying are to be 
neighborly in virtue of their nearness, then nearness itself must 
act in the manner of Saying. Then nearness and Saying would 
be the Same. The demand to think this is still a flagrant imposi- 
tion. Its flagrancy must not be softened in the least. 

If we were to succeed for once in reaching the place to which 
the guide-word beckons us, we would arrive where we have a 
possibility of undergoing an experience with language, the 
language known to us. Thus, much depends on our keeping to 
the direction of that indication which the clarified guide-word 
gives us— this guide-word which we can now paraphrase as 
follows: what concerns us as language receives its definition 
from Saying as that which moves all things. A hint beckons 




96 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

away from the one, toward the other. The guide-word beckons 
us away from the current notions about language, to the expe- 
rience of language as Saying. 

Hints hint in many ways. A hint can give its hint so simply 
and at the same time so fully that we release ourselves in its 
direction without equivocation. But it can also give its hint in 
such a manner that it refers us, from the first and persistently, 
back to the dubiousness against which it warns us, and lets 
us only suspect at first the memorable thing toward which it 
beckons us, as a thought-worthy matter for which the fitting 
mode of thinking is still lacking. The hint that our guide-word 
gives is of this kind, for the nature of language is so well known 
to us through a variety of determinations that we detach our- 
selves from these only with difficulty. But such detachment 
must not be forced, because the tradition remains rich in truth. 
Thus it behooves us first to give thought to our usual notions 
of language, even if only in their broad outlines, but to do so 
with forethought to what is indicated by the neighborhood of 
the two kinds of saying, poetry and thinking: in nearness as 
Saying. If we take language directly in the sense of something 
that is present, we encounter it as the act of speaking, the 
activation of the organs of speech, mouth, lips, tongue. Lan- 
guage manifests itself in speaking, as a phenomenon that occurs 
in man. The fact that language has long since been experi- 
enced, conceived, defined in these terms is attested bv the names 
that the Western languages have given to themselves: glossa , 
lingua , langue, language. Language is the tongue. The second 
chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells of the miracle 
of Pentecost, says in verses 3 and 4: 

xat (5cp9r|oav ai’toTg ftiafieoi^opevai yXwoaai cbael rrupog . . 
xai qo^avio XaXelv exe^ai^ yXcuooaig. 

The Vulgate translates: Et apparuerunt illis disper titae linguae 
tarnquam ignis . . . et coeperunt loqui x >ariis Unguis. In the 
Revised Standard Version, the passage runs as follows: "And 
there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



97 



resting on each one of them. And they . . . began to speak in 
other tongues. . . Yet their speaking is not meant as a mere 
facility of the tongue, but as filled with the holy spirit, the 
pneuma hagion. Even the biblical idea of language referred 
to here had been preceded by that Greek description of lan- 
guage of which Aristotle gives the standard formulation. Logos , 
statement, is seen in terms of the phonetic phenomenon of 
speech. At the beginning of a treatise later entitled peri her - 
meneias, De Interpretation, On Interpretation, Aristotle says: 

Now, what (takes place) in the making of vocal sounds is a 
show of what there is in the soul in the way of passions, and 
what is written is a show of the vocal sounds. And just as writing 
is not the same among all (men) , so also the vocal sounds are 
not the same. On the other hand, those things of which these 
(sounds and writings) are a show in the first place, are among 
all (men) the same passions of the soul, and the matters of 
which these (the passions) give likening representations are 
also the same. 

These lines of Aristotle constitute the classical passage that 
allows us to see the structure of which language as vocal 
sounds is a part: the letters are signs of sounds, the sounds are 
signs of mental experiences, and these are signs of things. 
The sign relation constitutes the struts of the structure. We 
proceed too crudely, though, when we speak everywhere with- 
out further definition of signs, of something that signifies and 
to some extent shows something else. Although Aristotle 
expressly uses the word semeia, signs, he speaks at the same 
time of surnbola and homoiomata. 

What matters here is that we keep the entire structure of 
sign relations before our eyes, because it has remained the 
standard for all later considerations of language, although 
with numerous modifications. 

Language is represented in terms of speech in the sense of 
vocal sounds. But does not this idea represent a situation in 
the very nature of language and demonstrable for any language 




98 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

at any time? Certainly. And let no one suppose that we mean 
to belittle vocal sounds as physical phenomena, the merely 
sensuous side of language, in favor of what is called the mean- 
ing and sense-content of what was said and is esteemed as 
being of the spirit, the spirit of language. It is much more 
important to consider whether, in any of the ways of looking 
at the structure of language we have mentioned, the physical 
element of language, its vocal and written character, is being 
adequately experienced; whether it is sufficient to associate 
sound exclusively with the body understood in physiological 
terms, and to place it within the metaphysically conceived 
confines of the sensuous. Vocalization and sounds may no 
doubt be explained physiologically as a production of sounds. 
But the question remains whether the real nature of the sounds 
and tones of speech is thus ever experienced and kept before 
our eyes. We are instead referred to melody and rhythm in 
language and thus to the kinship between song and speech. 
All would be well if only there were not the danger of under- 
standing melody and rhythm also from the perspective of 
physiology and physics, that is, technologically, calculatingly in 
the widest sense. No doubt much can be learned this way that 
is correct, but never, presumably, what is essential. It is just 
as much a property of language to sound and ring and vibrate, 
to hover and to tremble, as it is for the spoken words of lan- 
guage to carry a meaning. But our experience of this property 
is still exceedingly clumsy, because the metaphysical-technolog- 
ical explanation gets everywhere in the way, and keeps us from 
considering the matter properly. Even the simple fact that 
we Germans call the different manners of speaking in different 
sections of the country Mundarten, modes of the mouth, hardly 
ever receives a thought. Those differences do not solely nor 
primarily grow out of different movement patterns of the 
organs of speech. The landscape, and that means the earth, 
speaks in them, differently each time. But the mouth is not 
merely a kind of organ of the body understood as an organism 
—body and mouth arc part of the earth’s flow and growth in 
which we mortals flourish, and from which we receive the 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 99 

soundness of our roots. If we lose the earth, of course, we also 
lose the roots. 

In the fifth stanza of Holderlin’s hymn “Germania/* Zeus*s 
eagle is made to say to “the quietest daughter of God**: 

And secretly, while you dreamed, at noon. 

Departing I left a token of friendship, 

The flower of the mouth behind, and lonely you spoke. 

Yet you, the greatly blessed, with the rivers too 
Dispatched a wealth of golden words, and they well 
unceasing 

Into all regions now. # 

Language is the flower of the mouth. In language the earth 
blossoms toward the bloom of the sky. 

The first stanza of the elegy “Walk in the Country** sings: 

Therefore I even hope it may come to pass, 

When we begin what we wish for and our tongue loosens, 

And the word has been found and the heart has opened, 

And from ecstatic brows springs a higher reflection, 

That the sky's blooms may blossom even as do our own. 

And the luminous sky open to opened eyes. 

It must be left to you, my audience, to think about these 
verses in the light of what my three lectures are attempting, 
so that you may someday see how the nature of language as 
Saying, as that which moves all things, here announces itself. 
But one word that the poet says about the word must not be 
passed over— and we will do well to listen now to the gather- 
ing of those verses from which that word speaks. 

The verses occur at the end of the fifth stanza of the elegy 
“Bread and Wine*': 

Such is man; when the wealth is there, and no 
less than a god in 

Person tends him with gifts, blind he remains, unaware. 

First he must suffer; but now he names his most treasured 
possession, 

•Translation by Michael Hamburger, loc. cit. p. 405. (Tr.) 




lOO 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



Now for it words like flowers leaping alive he 
must find.* 

To think our way through these verses it will be helpful to 
think over what Holderlin himself says in another version of 
this passage, though that will require even deeper reflection: 

Long and hard is the word of this coming but 

White (Light) is the moment. But those who serve the 
gods know 

The earth well, and their step toward the abyss is 
More human with youth. but that in the depths is old.** 

Once again the word appears in the region, the region that 
determines earth and sky to be world regions, as it makes 
earth and sky, the streaming of the deep and the might of the 
heights, encounter one another. Once again: “words like 
flowers.” 

It would mean that we stay bogged down in metaphysics if 
we were to take the name Holderlin gives here to “words, like 
flowers" as being a metaphor. 

True, in a curious lecture on “Problems of the Lyric,” 
Gottfried Benn says (1951, p. 16): “This ‘like’ is always a break 
in the vision, it adduces, it compares, it is not a primary state- 
ment . . . ,” it is “a flagging of the tension of language, a 
weakness of creative transformation.” This interpretation may 
be largely valid, for great and small poets. But it is not valid 
for Holderlin’s saying, Holderlin whose poetry Gottfried 
Benn— correctly from his point of view— regards accordingly 
as nothing more than a “herbarium,” a collection of dried-up 
plants. 

“Words, like flowers”: that is not a “break in the vision” 
but the awakening of the largest view: nothing is “adduced” 
here, but on the contrary the word is given back into the 
keeping of the source of its being. There is no lack here of a 
“primary statement,” for here the word is brought forth from 
its inception: no “weakness of creative transformation” but the 

•Translation by Michael Hamburger, loc. cil. pp. 247 249. (Tr.) 

••Cf. Holderlin. ed. Hellingrath IV, pt. 2. Appendix p. 322. (Tr.) 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 



101 



gentle force of the singular and innocent capacity to hear. A 
‘‘creative transformation”— the sputnik is that, but it is not a 
poem. Gottfried Benn, in his own way, has recognized where 
he himself belongs. He has endured that insight. And this 
is what gives weight to his poetic work. 

When the word is called the mouth’s flower and its blossom, 
we hear the sound of language rising like the earth. From 
whence? From Saying in which it comes to pass that World is 
made to appear. The sound rings out in the resounding as- 
sembly call which, open to the Open, makes World appear 
in all things. The sounding of the voice is then no longer only 
of the order of physical organs. It is released now from the 
perspective of the physiological-physical explanation in terms 
of purely phonetic data. The sound of language, its earthyness 
is held with the harmony that attunes the regions of the 
world’s structure, playing them in chorus. This indication of 
the sound of speaking and of its source in Saying must at 
first sound obscure and strange. And yet it points to simple 
phenomena. We can see them once we pay heed again to 
the way in which we are everywhere under way within the 
neighborhood of the modes of Saying. Among these, poetry 
and thinking have ever been preeminent. Their neighborhood 
did not come to them by chance, from somewhere or other, 
as though they, by themselves, could be what they are even 
away from their neighborhood. This is why we must experience 
them within, and in terms of, their neighborhood, that is, in 
terms of what determines that neighborhood to be a neigh- 
borhood. Neighborhood, it was said, does not first create near- 
ness; rather, nearness brings about neighborhood. But what 
does nearness mean? 

As soon as we try to reflect on the matter we have already 
committed ourselves to a long path of thought. At this point, 
we shall succeed only in taking just a few steps. They do not 
lead forward but back, back to where we already are. The steps 
do not form a sequence from here to there, except— at best- 
in their outward appearance. Rather, they fuse into a con- 
centration upon the selfsame thing, and wend their way back 




102 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



to it. What looks like a digression is in fact the actual 
proper movement on the way by which the neighborhood is 
determined. And that is nearness. 

When we intend nearness, remoteness comes to the fore. 
Both stand in a certain contrast to each other, as different 
magnitudes of our distance from objects. The measurement 
of magnitude is performed by calculating the length or short- 
ness of intervening stretches. The measurements of the lengths 
so measured are always taken according to a yardstick by 
which, along which, the number of units in the measured 
stretch is counted out. To measure something against some- 
thing else by moving along it is called in Greek parametrein. 
The stretches along which and past which we measure nearness 
and remoteness as distances are the temporal sequence of 
"nows,” that is, time; and the spatial side-by-side (beside, in 
front, behind, above, below) of the points here and there, that 
is, space. To the calculating mind, space and time appear as 
parameters for the measurement of nearness and remoteness, 
and these in turn as static distances. But space and time do 
not serve only as parameters; in this role, their nature would 
soon be exhausted— a role whose seminal forms are discernible 
early in Western thinking, and which then, in the course of 
the modern age, became established by this way of thinking 
as the standard conception. 

The new theories, that is, methods of space and time mea- 
surement, relativity and quantum theories and nuclear physics, 
have changed nothing in the parametrical character of space 
and time. Nor can they produce any such change. If they could, 
then the entire structure of modern technology and natural 
science would collapse. Nothing today indicates the possibility 
of such a collapse. Everything argues against it, especially the 
hunt for the universal mathematical-theoretical formula of the 
physical world. But the impetus to that hunt does not spring 
from the personal passion of the investigators. Their nature 
itself is already of the kind that is driven by a challenge con- 
fronting modern thinking as a whole. "Physics and Respon- 
sibility"— that is a good thing, and important in today’s crisis. 




THE NATUKE OF LANGUAGE 103 

But it remains double-entry accounting, behind which there is 
concealed a breach that can be cured neither by science nor by 
morality, if indeed it is curable at all. 

However, what has all this to do with the nature of language? 
More than our thinking can encompass today. We may of 
course have had an intimation by now, in the form of that 
positive system which reckons nearness and remoteness as 
measurements of distance in space and time conceived as 
parameters. 

What is it that here makes us uneasy? The fact that in this 
way the nearness to which neighborhood belongs can never be 
experienced. If nearness and neighborliness could be conceived 
parametrically, then a distance of the magnitude of one mil- 
lionth of a second, and of one millimeter, would have to mean 
the nearest possible neighboring nearness, compared with 
which even the distance of a yard and a minute represents 
extreme remoteness. Even so, we are bound to insist that a 
certain spatial-temporal relatedness belongs to every neighbor- 
hood. Two isolated farmsteads— if any such are left— separated 
by an hour's walk across the fields, can be the best of neighbors, 
while two townhouses, facing each other across the street or 
even sharing a common wall, know no neighborhood. Neigh- 
boring nearness, then, does not depend on spatial-temporal 
relation. Nearness, then, is by its nature outside and indepen- 
dent of space and time. This view, however, would be pre- 
mature. We may say only this, that the nearness which prevails 
in the neighborhood does not depend on space and time con- 
sidered as parameters. But are time and space something else, 
then, assuming they are at all? Why is it that the parametrical 
character of space and time prevents neighboring nearness? If 
we assume that the parameters space and time furnish the 
standard for neighboring nearness, and thus bring about near- 
ness itself, then they would have to contain even within them- 
selves what distinguishes neighborliness: to be face-to-face 
with one another. We tend to think of face-to-face encounter 
exclusively as a relation between human beings. These lectures, 
too, have indeed restricted face-to-face encounter to the neigh- 




104 ON THE WAY TO language 

borhood of poetry and thinking as modes of saying. We shall 
for now leave open whether what we have done here is a 
restriction or a release. Yet being face-to-face with one another 
has a more distant origin; it originates in that distance where 
earth and sky, the god and man reach one another. Goethe, 
and Morike too, like to use the phrase “face-to-face with one 
another” not only with respect to human beings but also with 
respect to things of the world. Where this prevails, all things 
are open to one another in their self-concealment; thus one 
extends itself to the other, and thus all remain themselves; one 
is over the other as its guardian watching over the other, over 
it as its veil. 

In order to experience this face-to-face of things with one 
another in this way, we must, of course, first rid ourselves of 
the calculative frame of mind. The movement at the core of 
the world’s four regions, which makes them reach one another 
and holds them in the nearness of their distance, is nearness 
itself. This movement is what paves the way for being face-to- 
face. We shall call nearness in respect of this its movement 
“nighness.” The word seems contrived, but it has grown out 
of the matter itself in a thinking experience which can be 
repeated at will; it is no more unlikely than “wilderness” from 
“wild,” or “likeness” from “like.” The persisting nature of 
nearness is not the interstice, but the movement paving the way 
for the face-to-face of the regions of the world's fourfold. This 
movement is nearness in the nature of nighness. It remains 
unapproachable, and is farthest from us whenever we talk 
“about” it. However, space and time as parameters can neither 
bring about nor measure nearness. Why not? In the succession 
of “nows” one after the other as elements of parametric time, 
one “now” is never in open face-to-face encounter with another. 
In fact, we may not even say that, in this succession, the “now” 
coming after and the “now” coming before are closed off from 
each other. For closure, too, is still a manner of facing or 
excluding something being in face-to-face. But this encounter 
is as such excluded from the parametric concept of time. 

The same is true of the elements of space; it is true of 




THE NATURE Ol* LANGUAGE 



1 05 

numbers of every kind, true of movements in the sense of 
mathematically calculated spatiotemporal intervals. We con- 
ceive of the unbroken and consecutive sequence of parameters, 
of what is measured by them, as the continuum. It excludes a 
face-to-face encounter of its elements so resolutely that even 
where we meet with interruptions, the fractions can never come 
face-to-face with each other. 

Although space and time within their reach as parameters 
admit of no encounter of their elements, yet the dominance 
of space and time as parameters for all conceptualization, pro- 
duction, and accumulation— the parameters of the modern 
technical world— encroaches in an unearthly manner upon the 
dominion of nearness, that is, upon the nighness of the regions 
of the world. Where everything is fixed at calculated distances, 
precisely there, the absence of distance spreads due to the 
unbounded calculability of everything, and spreads in the form 
of the refusal of neighborly nearness of the world’s regions. In 
the absence of distance, everything becomes equal and indif- 
ferent in consequence of the one will intent upon the uniformly 
calculated availability of the whole earth. This is why the 
battle for the dominion of the earth has now entered its decisive 
phase. The all-out challenge to secure dominion over the earth 
can be met only by occupying an ultimate position beyond the 
earth from which to establish control over the earth. The battle 
for this position, however, is the thoroughgoing calculative 
conversion of all connections among all things into the calcu- 
lable absence of distance. This is making a desert of the 
encounter of the world’s fourfold— it is the refusal of nearness. 
In the battle for dominion over the earth, now, space and time 
reach their supreme dominion as parameters. However— their 
power becomes unleashed only because space and time are still, 
are already, something other than the long-familiar parameters. 
T heir parametrical character obstructs the nature of time and 
space. Above all it conceals the relation of that nature to the 
nature of nearness. Simple as these relations are, they remain 
wholly inaccessible to calculative thinking. Where they are held 
up to us nonetheless, our current notions resist the insight. 




io6 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



Of time it may be said: time times. 

Of space it may be said: space spaces. 

The customary notion of time and space takes offense at such 
talk, and rightly so. For in order to understand it, we need the 
thinking experience of what is called identity. 

Time times— which means, time makes ripe, makes rise up 
and grow. Timely is what has come up in the rising. What is 
it that time times? That which is Simultaneous, which is, that 
which rises up together with its time. And what is that? We 
have long known it, only we do not think of it in terms of 
timing. Time times simultaneously: the has-been, presence, 
and the present that is waiting for our encounter and is nor- 
mally called the future. Time in its timing removes us into 
its threefold simultaneity, moves us thence while holding out 
to us the disclosure of what is in the same time, the concordant 
oneness of the has-been, presence, and the present waiting the 
encounter. In removing us and bringing toward us, time moves 
on its way what simultaneity yields and throws open to it: 
time-space. But time itself, in the wholeness of its nature, does 
not move; it rests in stillness. 

The same is to be said about space: it spaces, throws open 
locality and places, vacates them and at the same time gives 
them free for all things and receives what is simultaneous as 
space-time. But space itself, in the wholeness of its nature, does 
not move; it rests in stillness. Time’s removing and bringing 
to us, and space’s throwing open, admitting and releasing— they 
all belong together in the Same, the play of stillness, something 
to which we cannot here give further thought. The Same, which 
holds space and time gathered up in their nature, might be 
called the free scope, that is, the time-space that gives free 
scope to all things. Timing and spacing, this Same moves the 
encounter of the four world regions: earth and sky, god and 
man— the world play. 

The movement of being face-to-face with one another within 
the world’s fourfold generates nearness to its own— it is near- 
ness as nighness. Should that movement itself be called the 
occurrence of stillness? 




THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 107 

But what has just now been indicated— does it still say some- 
thing of the nature of language? It does indeed, even in the 
same sense as our three lectures have tried to do: to make us 
face a possibility of undergoing an experience with language, 
such that our relation to language would in future become 
memorable, worthy of thought. 

Have we now reached such a possibility? 

Anticipating, we defined Saying. To say means to show, to 
make appear, the lighting-concealing-releasing offer of world. 
Now, nearness manifests itself as the motion in which the 
world's regions face each other. 

There arises the possibility of seeing how Saying, as the being 
of language, swings back into the presence of nearness. Quiet 
consideration makes possible an insight into how nearness and 
Saying, being of the persisting nature of language, are the Same. 
Language, then, is not a mere human faculty. Its character 
belongs to the very character of the movement of the face-to- 
face encounter of the world's four regions. 

There arises the possibility that we undergo an experience 
with language, that we enter into something which bowls us 
over, that is, transmutes our relation to language. How so? 

Language, Saying of the world's fourfold, is no longer only 
such that we speaking human beings are related to it in the 
sense of a nexus existing between man and language. Language 
is, as world-moving Saying, the relation of all relations. It 
relates, maintains, proffers, and enriches the face-to-face en- 
counter of the world's regions, holds and keeps them, in that 
it holds itself— Saying— in reserve. 

Reserving itself in this way, as Saying of the world’s fourfold, 
language concerns us, us who as mortals belong within this four- 
fold world, us who can speak only as we respond to language. 

Mortals are they who can experience death as death. Animals 
cannot do so. But animals cannot speak either. The essential 
relation between death and language flashes up before us, but 
remains still unthought. It can, however, beckon us toward 
the way in which the nature of language draws us into its 
concern and so relates us to itself, in case death belongs 




108 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

together with what reaches out for us, touches us. Assuming 
that the mover which holds the world’s four regions in the 
single nearness of their face-to-face encounter rests in Saying, 
then only Saying confers what we call by the tiny word “is,” 
and thus say after Saying. Saying releases the “is” into lighted 
freedom and therewith into the security of its thinkability. 

Saying, as the way-making movement of the world’s fourfold, 
gathers all things up into the nearness of face-to-face encounter, 
and does so soundlessly, as quietly as time times, space spaces, 
as quietly as the play of time-space is enacted. 

The soundless gathering call, by which Saying moves the 
world-relation on its way, we call the ringing of stillness. It is: 
the language of being. 

In the neighborhood of Stefan George’s poem we heard it 
said: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

We remarked that the poem leaves a thought-provoking resi- 
due, to wit, the meaning of “a thing w.” Equally thought- 
provoking to us became the relation of the word that is 
sounded, because it is not lacking, to the “is.” 

Now, thinking within the neighborhood of the poetic word, 
we may say, as a supposition: 

An "is” arises where the word breaks up. 

To break up here means that the sounding word returns into 
soundlessness, back to whence it was granted: into the ringing 
of stillness which, as Saying, moves the regions of the world's 
fourfold into their nearness. 

This breaking up of the word is the true step back on the 
way of thinking. 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



JL o begin, we shall listen to some words of Novalis. 
They occur in a text which he entitled Monologue, That title 
points to the mystery of language: language speaks solely with 
itself alone. One sentence in Novatis* text runs: “The j>eculiar 
property of language, namely that language is concerned exclu- 
sively with itself— preci sely that is know n to no o ne.” 

If we understand all that we shall now attempt to say as a 
sequence of statements about language, it will remain a chain 
of unverified and scientifically unverifiable propositions. But if, 
on the contrary, we experience the way to language in the light 
of what happens with the way itself as we go on, then an 
intimation may come to us in virtue of which language will 
henceforth strike us as strange. 

The way to language: that sounds as if language were far 
away from us, some place to which we still have to find our 
way. But is a way to language really needed? According to an 
ancient understanding, we ourselves are after all those beings 
who have the ability to speak and therefore already possess 




1 12 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



language. Nor is the ability to speak just one among man’s 
many talents, of the same order as the others. The ability to 
speak is what marks man as man. This mark contains the 
design of his being. Man would not be man if it were denied 
him to speak unceasingly, horn everywhere and every which 
way, in many variations, and to speak in terms of an “it is” 
that most often remains unspoken. Language, in granting all 
this to man, is the foundation of human being. 

We are, then, within language and with language before 
all else. A way to language is not needed. Besides, the way to 
language is impossible if we indeed are already at that point 
to which the way is to take us. But are we at that point? Are 
w r e so fully within language that we experience its nature, 
that we think speech as speech by grasping its idiom in listen- 
ing to it? Do we in fact already live close to language even 
without our doing? Or is the way to language as language the 
longest road our thinking can follow? Not just the longest, 
but a way lined with obstacles that come from language itself, 
as soon as our reflec tion tries to pursue language straight into 
its own, without ever losing sight of it? 

We are here undertaking something very unusual, which 
we might paraphrase as follows: we try to speak about speech 
qua speech. That sounds like a formula. It is intended to 
serve us as a guideline on our way to language. The words 
“speak, speech” are used three times in the formula, saying 
something different each time and yet the Same. It is this under- 
lying Same which, in terms of the oneness that is the distinctive 
property of language, holds together what is kept separate in 
the formula. To begin with, though, the formula points to a 
w r eb of relations in which we ourselves are included. The 
undertaking of a way to speech is woven into a kind of speak- 
ing which intends to uncover speech itself in order to present 
it as speech and to put it into words in the presentation— 
which is also evidence that language itself has woven us into 
the speaking. 

This web indicated by the formula designates the pre- 
determined realm in which not onlv this lecture series but all 




THE WAV TO LANGUAGE 



^3 

linguistic science, all linguistic theory and philosophy of lan- 
guage, in fact any attempt to reflect on language, must live. 

A web compresses, narrows, and obstructs the straight clear 
view inside its mesh. At the same time, however, the web of 
which the guiding formula speaks is the proper matter of 
language. Therefore, we may not disregard the web which 
seems to crowd everything into a hopeless tangle. Rather, the 
formula is to urge our reflection to attempt, not to remove the 
web, of course, but to loosen it so that it allows us a view into 
the open togetherness of the relations named in the formula. 
Perhaps there is a bond running through the web which, 
in a way that remains strange, unbinds and delivers language 
into its own. The point is to experience the unbinding bond 
within the web of language. 

The lecture in this series which considers language as 
information,* and in the process has to consider information as 
language, refers to this involuted relation as a circle— an 
unavoidable yet meaningful circle. The circle is a special case 
of our web of language. It is meaningful, because the direc- 
tion and manner of the circling motion are determined by 
language itself, by a movement within language. We might 
learn the character and scope of this movement from language 
itself, by entering the web. 

How can that be done? By pursuing relentlessly what the 
guiding formula points to: To speak about speech qua speech. 

The more clearly language shows itself in its own character 
as we proceed, the more significant does the way to language 
become for language itself, and the more decisively does the 
meaning of our guiding formula change. It ceases to be a 
formula, and unexpectedly becomes a soundless echo which 
lets us hear something of the proper character of language. 

I 

Language: what we have in mind is speaking, which is 
something we do and are confident of being able to do. Even 

•In the scries of which this essay originally was a part, C. F. 
Weizsacker spoke on the topic "Language as Information.*' 



von 




ii 4 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



so, the power of speech is not a secure possession. Speech may 
fail a man when he is stunned or terrified. He stands there, 
struck— and nothing else. He does no longer speak: he is 
silent. Or a man may lose the power of speech in an accident. 
He does no longer speak. Nor is he silent. He remains mute. 
Speaking implies the making of articulated sounds, whether 
we make them (in speaking), or refrain from making them (in 
silence), or are incapable of making them (in loss of speech). 
Speaking implies the articulate vocal production of sound. 
Language manifests itself in speaking as the activation of the 
organs of speech— mouth, lips, teeth, tongue, larynx. The names 
by which language has called itself in the Western languages— 
glossa, lingua, langue, language— are evidence that language 
has since ancient times been conceived in terms of these phe- 
nomena. Language is the tongue, the “lingo. M 

At the beginning of a treatise later to be titled peri her- 
meneias, “On Interpretation,” Aristotle says: 

v Eoti pev oflv xa £v xfj qpcovfj xtbv 2v xfl tyvxfj Jiafhjpaxan 
<rup6oAa, xai xa yQ^opeva xd)v £v xfl qxovjj. xai <So 7 reQ ov>6J 
Ypappaxa jraot xa avxa, qpcovai al avxar d>v pevxoi xauxo 
ot]peta jiqcoxcov, xatixa Jiaai ;ia{>r|paxa xr]g xai *ai3xo 

opotcapaxa nQay\iaxa t]5t] xauxa. 

Only a careful exegesis would permit an adequate translation 
of this text. Here we shall be content with a makeshift. 
Aristotle says: 

Now, what (takes place) in the making of vocal sounds is a 
show of what there is in the soul in the way of passions, and 
what is written is a show of the vocal sounds. And just as 
writing is not the same among all (men) , so also the vocal 
sounds are not the same. On the other hand, those things of 
which these (sounds and writings) are a show in the first place, 
are among all (men) the same passions of the soul, and the 
matters of which these (the passions) give likening representa- 
tions are also the same. 

Our translation understands semeia (that which shows), 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 115 

symbola (that which holds to each other), and homoiomata 
(that which likens) consistently in terms of showing, in the 
sense of bringing about the appearance, which in its turn 
consists in the prevalence of unconcealment ( aletheia ). But 
our translation disregards the different ways of showing that 
are mentioned in the text. 

Aristotle’s text has the detached and sober diction that 
exhibits the classical architectonic structure in which language, 
as speaking, remains secure. The letters show the sounds. The 
sounds show the passions in the soul, and the passions in the 
soul show the matters that arouse them. 

Showing is what forms and upholds the intertwining braces 
of the architectonic structure. In various ways, disclosing or 
disguising. Showing makes something come to light, lets what 
has come to light be perceived, and lets the perception be 
examined. The kinship of Showing with what it shows— a 
kinship never developed purely in its own terms and those 
of its origins— later becomes transformed into a conventional 
relation between a sign and its signification. The Greeks of 
the Classical Age know and understand the sign in terms of 
showing— the sign is shaped to show. Since Hellenistic times 
(the Stoa), the sign originates by a stipulation, as the instru- 
ment for a manner of designation by which man’s mind is reset 
and directed from one object to another object. Designation is 
no longer a showing in the sense of bringing something to 
light. The transformation of the sign from something that 
shows to something that designates has its roots in the change 
of the nature of truth. # 

Since the Greeks, beings are experienced to be whatever 
is present. Since language is, it— whatever speaking occurs at 
any time— belongs to what is present. Language is represented 
in terms of speech, in respect of its articulated sounds, carriers 
of meanings. Speaking is one kind of human activity. 

This notion of language, here touched upon only in passing, 
has in many variant forms remained basic and predominant 



•See ray Platon’s Lehre von der Wahrheil, 1947. (M. H.) 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



1 16 

through all the centuries of Westem-European thinking. 
Though it had its beginnings in Greek antiquity, and though 
the quest for it took many forms, this view of language reaches 
its peak in Wilhelm von Humboldt's reflections on language, 
culminating in the great Introduction to his work on the Kavi 
language of Java. A year after his death, his brother Alexander 
von Humboldt published that Introduction separately under 
the title “On the Diversity of the Structure of Human Lan- 
guage and its Influence on the Intellectual Development of 
Mankind" (Berlin, i8s6). # This treatise, in an open and covert 
pro and con , has ever since determined the course of all sub- 
sequent philology and philosophy of language. 

Every member of my audience in this attempt at a lecture 
series would have to have thought through and have in mind 
Wilhelm von Humboldt’s astounding, obscure, and yet con- 
tinuously stimulating treatise. Then all of us would have a 
common vantage point from which to look into language. 
Such a common vantage point is lacking. We must put up 
with this lack— but let us not forget it. 

According to Wilhelm von Humboldt, "articulated sound" 
is "the basis and essence of all speech" (p. 44). In Chapter 
Five of the treatise, Humboldt formulates those statements 
which are often cited but rarely given thought, specifically 
given thought to see how they determine Humboldt’s way to 
language. These statements run: 

Properly conceived of, language is something persistent and in 
every * instant transitory. Even its maintenance by writing is 
only an incomplete, mummified preservation, necessary if one 
is again to render perceptible the living speech concerned. In 

•A translation of this work, under the title Linguistic Variability and 
Intellectual Development, trans. George C. Buck and Frithjof A. Raven 
(Miami Linguistic Series No. 9 ) (Coral Gables, 1970), was being readied for 
publication when this translation was still in draft form. The courtesy of 
the publishers, The University of Miami Press, in making page proofs 
available at an early stage, and giving permission to use the passages which 
follow, is gratefully acknowledged. All references below are to the Buck & 
Raven translation. In the German text, Heidegger refers to the E. Wasmuth 
reprint edition (1936) of von Huml>oldt s w^ork. (Tr.) 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



117 



itself language is not work (ergon) but an activity (energeia ) . 

Its true definition may therefore only be genetic. It is after all 
the continual intellectual effort to make the articulated sound 
capable of expressing thought. In a rigorous sense, this is the 
definition of speech in each given case. Essentially, however, 
only the totality of this speaking can be regarded as language. 

(p. 27) 

Humboldt here says that he finds the essential element of 
language in the act of speaking. Does he thereby also say 
what speech, looked at in this way, is qua speech? Does he make 
the act of speaking, taken as language, speak for itself? We 
purposely leave these questions unanswered, but observe the 
following: 

Humboldt conceives of language as a particular “intellectual 
effort." Following this view, he looks for that as which language 
shows itself— he looks for what language is. This whatness is 
called its nature. If we follow up and define the intellectual 
effort with respect to its achievement in speech, that nature, so 
understood, is bound to stand out more clearly. Yet the 
intellect— in Humboldt’s sense, too— lives in other activities and 
achievements as well. If, however, language is counted as one 
of these, then speaking is not experienced in its own terms, in 
terms of language, but rather is referred to something else. 
Still, this something else remains too important for us to pass 
it over in our reflection on language. What activity does 
Humboldt have in mind when he conceives of language as an 
intellectual effort? A few lines at the beginning of Chapter 
Five give the answer: 

Language must be regarded not as a dead product of the past 
but as a living creation. It must be abstracted from all that it 
effects as a designation of comprehended ideas. Furthermore, 
we must revert to a more meticulous examination of its origins 
and its interaction with intellectual activity, (p. 26) 

Humboldt is referring here to the “inner form of language," 
which is described in his Chapter Eight but difficult to define 
in his conceptual terms; we might come a little closer to his 




1 1 8 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

meaning by asking: What is speaking as the expression of 
thought if we think of it in terms of its origin in the inner 
activity of the spirit? The answer is contained in a sentence 
in Chapter Seventeen, whose adequate interpretation would 
require a separate study: 

If in the soul the feeling truly arises that language is not merely 
a medium of exchange for mutual understanding, but a true 
world which the intellect must set between itself and objects 
by the inner labor of its power, then the soul is on the true 
way toward discovering constantly more in language, and 
putting constantly more into it. (p. 135) • 

According to the tenets of modem idealism, the labor of the 
spirit is a positing, a setting (thesis) . Because the spirit is con- 
ceived as subject, and is accordingly represented within the 
subject-object model, the positing (thesis) must be the syn- 
thesis between the subject and its objects. What is so posited 
affords a view of objects as a whole. That which the power of 
the subject develops by its labor and sets between itself and the 
objects, Humboldt calls “a world." In such a “world view,” a 
humanity achieves its self-expression. 

But why does Humboldt regard language as a world and 
world view? Because his way to language is defined, not so 
much in terms of language as language, but rather in terms 
of an endeavor to offer a historical presentation of man’s whole 
historical-spiritual development in its totality and yet also in 
its given individuality. In the fragment of an autobiography 
dating from i 8 i 6, Humboldt writes: “What I am striving for 
is after all precisely this— to understand the world in its indi- 
viduality and totality." 

An understanding of the world with this orientation can 

draw on many sources, because the self-expressive power of the 

spirit is active in a variety of ways. Humboldt recognizes and 

chooses language as one of the chief sources. While language 

is not, of course, the only form of world view developed by 

human subjectivity, it is that form to which we must ascribe 

•The translation of the Humboldt passage given here differs slightly 
from the Buck & Raven translation. (Tr.) 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



*>9 



a special authority in the history of man’s development by 
virtue of its formative power at each given time. The title of 
the treatise now becomes somewhat clearer as regards Hum- 
boldt’s way to language. 

Humboldt deals with “the diversity of the structure of 
human language’’ and deals with it in respect of “its influence 
on the spiritual development of mankind.” Humboldt puts 
language into language as one kind and form of the world view 
worked out in human subjectivity. 

Into what language? Into a series of assertions that speak the 
language of the metaphysics of his time, a language in which 
Leibniz’ philosophy plays a decisive role. The authority of 
that philosophy manifests itself most clearly in the fact that 
Humboldt defines the nature of language as energeia, but 
understands the word in a wholly un-Greek sense— the sense of 
Leibniz’s monadology as the activity of the subject. Humboldt’s 
way to language is turned in the direction of man, and leads 
through language on to something else: the endeavor to get 
to the bottom of and to present the spiritual development of 
the human race. 

However, the nature of language conceived in this light does 
not thereby show also the linguistic nature: the manner in 
which language has being, that is, abides, that is, remains 
gathered in what language grants to itself, to its own idiom, 
as language. 

II 

When we reflect on language qua language, we have aban- 
doned the traditional procedure of language study. We now 
can no longer look for general notions such as energy, activity, 
labor, power of the spirit, world view, or expression, under 
which to subsume language as a special case. Instead of explain- 
ing language in terms of one thing or another, and thus run- 
ning away from it, the way to language intends to let language 
be experienced as language. In the nature of language, to be 
sure, language itself is conceptually grasped— but grasped in 
the grasp of something other than itself. If we attend to lan- 




1 20 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



guage exclusively as language, however, then language requires 
of us that we first of all put forward everything that belongs to 
language as language. 

Yet it is one thing to coordinate the various things that are 
manifest in the linguistic nature, and another to focus our eyes 
upon that which of itself unifies those things, and which 
imparts its proper unity to the essence of language. 

Our way to language will attempt now to follow more 
strictly the guideline given by the formula: to speak about 
speech qua speech. The point is to approach more closely lan- 
guage's own peculiar character. Here, too, language shows itself 
first as our way of speaking. We shall for now attend only to 
such things as, noticed or unnoticed, have and always have 
had a voice in speaking, always to the same measure. 

Speaking must have speakers, but not merely in the same way 
as an effect must have a cause. Rather, the speakers are present 
in the w r ay of speaking. Speaking, they are present and together 
with those with whom they speak, in whose neighborhood they 
dwell because it is what happens to concern them at the 
moment. That includes fellow' men and things, namely, every- 
thing that conditions things and determines men. All this is 
addressed in word, each in its own way, and therefore spoken 
about and discussed in such a way that the speakers speak to 
and with one another and to themselves. All the w ? hile, what is 
spoken remains many-sided. Often it is no more than what has 
been spoken explicitly, and either fades quickly away or else 
is somehow preserved. What is spoken can have passed by, but 
it also can have arrived long ago as that which is granted, by 
which somebody is addressed. 

Everything spoken stems in a varietv of ways from the 
unspoken, whether this be something not yet spoken, or 
whether it be what must remain unspoken in the sense that it 
is beyond the reach of speaking. Thus, that w f hich is spoken 
in various ways begins to appear as if it were cut off from 
speaking and the speakers, and did not belong to them, w r hile 
in fact it alone offers to speaking and to the speakers whatever 
it is they attend to, no matter in what way they stay within 
what is spoken of the unspoken. 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



121 



The nature of language exhibits a great diversity of elements 
and relations. We enumerated them but did not string them 
together in series. In going through them, that is, in the orig- 
inal count which does not yet reckon with numbers, some 
kind of belonging together became manifest. The count is a 
recounting that anticipates the unifying element in the belong- 
ing together, yet cannot bring it out and make it appear. 

There is a long history to the inability, here come to light, 
of the vision of thinking to see directly the unifying unity of 
the being of language. That is why this unity remains without 
a name. The traditional names for what we have in mind 
under the rubric “language" indicate this unity always only 
in terms of one or another of the aspects which the being of 
language has to offer. 

This unity of the being of language for which we are looking 
we shall call the design. The name demands of us that we see 
the proper character of the being of language with greater 
clarity. The "sign” in design (Latin signum) is related to 
secare , to cut— as in saw, sector, segment. To design is to cut 
a trace. Most of us know the word “sign” only in its debased 
meaning— lines on a surface. But we make a design also when 
we cut a furrow into the soil to open it to seed and growth. 
The design is the whole of the traits of that drawing which 
structures and prevails throughout the open, unlocked freedom 
of language. The design is the drawing of the being of lan- 
guage, the structure of a show in which are joined the speakers 
and their speaking: what is spoken and what of it is unspoken 
in all that is given in the speaking. 

Yet the design of language’s nature will remain veiled to 
us even in its approximate outline, as long as we do not 
properly attend to the sense in which we had already spoken 
of speaking and what is spoken. 

To be sure, speaking is vocalization. Also, it can be con- 
sidered a human activity. Both are correct views of language 
as speaking. Both will now be ignored, though we should not 
forget how long the vocal aspect of language has already been 
waiting for a fitting definition; for the phonetic-acoustic- 
physiological explanation of the sounds of language does not 




122 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



know the experience of their origin in ringing stillness, and 
knows even less how sound is given voice and is defined by 
that stillness. 

But then, in this short account of the nature of language, 
in what way are we thinking of speech and what is spoken? 
They reveal themselves even now as that by which and within 
which something is given voice and language, that is, makes 
an appearance insofar as something is said . To say and to 
speak are not identical. A man may speak, speak endlessly, 
and all the time say nothing. Another man may remain silent, 
not speak at all and yet, without speaking, say a great deal. 

But what does “say” mean? In order to find out, we must 
stay close to what our very language tells us to think when 
I we use the word. “Say” means to show, to let appear, to let 
» be seen and heard. 

In pointing out what follows we shall be saying something 
that is self-evident, and yet hardly a thought has been given 
to it and all its implications. To speak to one another means: 
to say something, show something to one another, and to 
entrust one another mutually to what is shown. To speak 
with one another means: to tell of something jointly, to show 
to one another what that which is claimed in the speaking 
says in the speaking, and what it, of itself, brings to light. 
What is unspoken is not merely something that lacks voice, 
it is what remains unsaid, what is not yet shown, what has not 
yet reached its appearance. That which must remain wholly 
unspoken is held back in the unsaid, abides in concealment as 
unshowable, is mystery. That which is spoken to us speaks as 
dictum in the sense of something imparted, something whose 
speaking does not even require to be sounded. 

Speaking, qua saying something, belongs to the design of the 
being of language, the design which is pervaded by all the 
modes of saying and of what is said, in which everything pres- 
ent or absent announces, grants or refuses itself, shows itself 
or withdraws. This multiform saying from many different 
sources is the pervasive element in the design of the being of 
language. With regard to the manifold ties of saying, we shall 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 1 2 J 

call the being of language in its totality “Saying**— and confess 
that even so we still have not caught sight of what unifies 
those ties. 

We have a tendency today to use the word “Saying/* like so 
many other words in our language, mostly in a disparaging 
sense. Saying is accounted a mere say-so, a rumor unsupported 
and hence untrustworthy. Here “Saying** is not understood 
in this sense, nor in its natural, essential sense of Saga . Is it 
used perhaps in the sense of Georg Trakl’s line “the venerable 
saying of the blue source’*? In keeping with the most ancient 
usage of the word we understand saying in terms of showing, 
pointing out, signaling. Jean Paul called the phenomena of 
nature “the spiritual pointer” or “spiritual index finger.”® 

The essential being of language is Saying as Showing . Its 
showing character is not based on signs of any kind; rather, 
all signs arise from a showing within whose realm and for 
whose purposes they can be signs. 

In view of the structure of Saying, however, we may not 
consider showing as exclusively, or even decisively, the prop- 
erty of human activity. Self-showing appearance is the mark 
of the presence and absence of everything that is present, of 
every kind and rank. Even when Showing is accomplished by. 
our human saying, even then this showing, this pointer, is pre- 
ceded by an indication that it will let itself be shown. 

Only when we give thought to our human saying in this light, 
only then do we arrive at an adequate definition of what is 
essentially present in all speaking. Speaking is known as the 
articulated vocalization of thought by means of the organs of 
speech. But speaking is at the same time also listening. It is 
the custom to put speaking and listening in opposition: one 
man speaks, the other listens. But listening accompanies and 
surrounds not only speaking such as takes place in conversa- 
tion. The simultaneousness of speaking and listening has a 
larger meaning. Speaking is of itself a listening. Speaking is 
listening to the language which we speak. Thus, it is a listening 
not while but before we are speaking. This listening to lan- 

9 “Der geistige Zeige finger" (Tr.) 




124 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



guage also comes before all other kinds of listening that we 
know, in a most inconspicuous manner. We do not merely 
speak the language— we speak by way of it. We can do so 
solely because we always have already listened to the lan- 
guage. What do we hear there? We hear language speaking. 

But— does language itself speak? How is it supposed to 
perform such a feat when obviously it is not equipped with 
organs of speech? Yet language speaks. Language first of all 
and inherently obeys the essential nature of speaking: it says. 
Language speaks by saying, this is, by showing. What it says 
wells up from the formerly spoken and so far still unspoken 
Saying which pervades the design of language. Language 
speaks in that it, as showing, reaching into all regions of 
presences, summons from them whatever is present to appear 
and to fade. We, accordingly, listen to language in this way, 
that we let it say its Saying to us. No matter in what way we 
may listen besides, whenever we are listening to something we 
are letting something be said to us, and all perception and 
conception is already contained in that act. In our speaking, 
as a listening to language, we say again the Saying we have 
heard. We let its soundless voice come to us, and then demand, 
reach out and call for the sound that is already kept in store for 
us. By now, perhaps, at least one trait in the design of language 
may manifest itself more clearly, allowing us to see how lan- 
guage as speaking comes into its own and thus speaks qua 
language. 

If speaking, as the listening to language, lets Saying be 
said to it, this letting can obtain only in so far— and so near— 
as our own nature has been admitted and entered into Saying. 
We hear Saying only because we belong within it. Saying 
grants the hearing, and thus the speaking, of language solely 
to those who belong within it. Such is the granting that abides 
in Saying. It allows us to attain the ability to speak. The 
essence of language is present in Saying as the source of 
such grant. 

And Saying itself? Is it separated from our speaking, some- 
thing to which we first must build a bridge? Or is Saying the 
stream of stillness which in forming them joins its own two 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 1 25 

banks— the Saying and our saying after it? Our customary 
notions of language hardly reach as far as that. Saying ... in 
our attempt to think of the being of language in terms of 
Saying, do we not run the risk of elevating language into a 
fantastic, self-sustained being which cannot be encountered 
anywhere so long as our reflection on language remains sober? 
For language, after all, remains unmistakably bound up with 
human speaking. Certainly. But what kind of bond is it? On 
what grounds and in what way is it binding? Language needs 
human speaking, and yet it is not merely of the making or at 
the command of our speech activity. On what does the being 
of language rest, that is, where is it grounded? Perhaps we are 
missing the very nature of language when we ask for grounds? 

Or could it even be that Saying is itself the abode of rest 
which grants the quiet of mutual belonging to all that belongs 
within the structure of the being of language? 

Before thinking further in that direction, let us again attend 
to the way to language. By way of introduction it was pointed 
out that the more clearly language comes to light as language 
itself, the more radically the way to it will change. So far, the 
way has had the character of a progression that leads our 
reflection in the direction toward language within the curious 
web of our guiding formula. Taking our cue from Wilhelm 
von Humboldt and starting with the speaking process, we tried 
first to form an idea of the nature of language, and then to 
get to the bottom of it. Thereafter it became necessary to 
recount all that belongs to the design of the being of language. 
This reflection brought us to language as Saying. 

Ill 

With the account and explication of the being of language 
as Saying, our way to language has reached language as such, 
and thus has reached its goal. Reflection has put the way to 
language behind it. So it seems, and so indeed it is as long as 
we take the way to language to be the progression of a thinking 
which reflects on language. In truth, however, our reflection 
finds that it has come only within sight of the way to language 
it is seeking; it is barely on its traces. For something has mean- 




126 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



while come to light in the being of language itself which says: 
within language as Saying there is present something like a 
way or path. 

What is a way? A way allows us to reach something. Saying, 
if we listen to it, is what allows us to reach the speaking of 
language. 

The way to speaking is present within language itself. The 
way to language (in the sense of speaking) is language as 
Saying. The peculiarity of language, accordingly, conceals itself 
in the way in which Saying allows those who listen to it to 
reach language. We can be those listeners only insofar as we 
belong within Saying. The way to speaking begins with the 
fact that we are allowed to listen and thus to belong to Saying. 
This belonging contains the actual presence of the way to 
language. But in what manner is Saying present, that it can 
let us listen and belong? If the essence of Saying is ever to make 
itself manifest, then surely it will do so when we attend with 
greater instancy to what the foregoing explications have offered. 

Saying is showing. In everything that speaks to us, in every- 
thing that touches us by being spoken and spoken about, in 
everything that gives itself to us in speaking, or waits for us 
unspoken, but also in the speaking that we do ourselves , there 
prevails Showing which causes to appear what is present, and 
to fade from appearance what is absent. Saying is in no way the 
linguistic expression added to the phenomena after they have 
appeared— rather, all radiant appearance and all fading away 
is grounded in the showing Saying. Saying sets all present 
beings free into their given presence, and brings what is absent 
into their absence. Saying pervades and structures the openness 
of that clearing which every appearance must seek out and 
every disappearance must leave behind, and in which every 
present or absent being must show, say, announce itself. 

Saying is the gathering that joins all appearance of the in 
itself manifold showing which everywhere lets all that is shown 
abide within itself. 

Where does the showing spring from? The question asks too 
much, and asks prematurely. It is enough if we heed what it is 
that stirs and quickens in the showing and bears its quickness 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



127 



out. Here we need not look far. All we need is the plain, sudden, 
unforgettable and hence forever new look into something 
which we— even though it is familiar to us— do not even try to 
know, let alone understand in a fitting manner. This unknown- 
familiar something, all this pointing of Saying to what is quick 
and stirring within it, is to all present and absent beings as that 
first break of dawn with which the changing cycle of day and 
night first begins to be possible: it is the earliest and most 
ancient at once. We can do no more than name it, because it 
will not be discussed, for it is the region of all places, of all 
time-space-horizons. We shall name it with an ancient word 
and say: 

The moving force in Showing of Saying is Owning. It is what 
brings all present and absent beings each into their own, from 
where they show themselves in what they are, and where they 
abide according to their kind. This owning which brings them 
there, and which moves Saying as Showing in its showing we 
call Appropriation. It yields the opening of the clearing in 
which present beings can persist and from which absent beings 
can depart while keeping their persistence in the withdrawal. 
What Appropriation yields through Saying is never the effect 
of a cause, nor the consequence of an antecedent. The yielding 
owning, the Appropriation, confers more than any effectuation, 
making, or founding. What is yielding is Appropriation itself — 
and nothing else.® That Appropriation, seen as it is shown by 
Saying, cannot be represented either as an occurrence or a 
happening— it can only be experienced as the abiding gift 
yielded by Saying. There is nothing else from which the Appro- 
priation itself could be derived, even less in whose terms it 
could be explained. The appropriating event is not the out- 
come (result) of something else, but the giving yield whose 
giving reach alone is what gives us such things as a “there is, M 
a “there is“ of which even Being itself stands in need to come 
into its own as presence.** 

•See my Identity and Difference (tr. Joan Stambaugh; New York: Harper 
& Row, 1969), pp. 37 ff. (M.H.) 

••See my Being and Time (tr. Macquarric & Robinson; New York: 
Harper & Row, 1962), p. 255. (M. H.) 




1 28 ON THE WAV TO LANGUAGE 

Appropriation assembles the design of Saying and unfolds 
it into the structure of manifold Showing. It is itself the most 
inconspicuous of inconspicuous phenomena, the simplest of 
simplicities, the nearest of the near, and the farthest of the far 
in which we mortals spend our lives. 

We can give a name to the appropriation that prevails in 
Saying: it— Appropriation— appropriates or owns. When we say 
this, we speak our own appropriate already spoken language. 
There are some verses by Goethe that use the word “own” in a 
meaning close to “showing itself” (though not with reference 
to the nature of language) . Goethe says: 

Caught soon and late in superstition’s snare, 

It owns, it shows itself, it says “beware.” 

Elsewhere we find a variation: 

Name one thing or name a thousand, 

What we covet, what we fear— 

That life owns itself to thanking, 

Is alone what makes it dear.* 

Appropriation grants to mortals their abode within their 
nature, so that they may be capable of being those who speak. 
If we understand “law” as the gathering that lays down that 
which causes all beings to be present in their own, in what is 
appropriate for them, then Appropriation is the plainest and 
most gentle of all laws, even more gentle than what Adalbert 
Stifter saw as the “gentle law.” Appropriation, though, is not 
law in the sense of a norm which hangs over our heads some- 
where, it is not an ordinance which orders and regulates a 
course of events: 

Appropriation is the law because it gathers mortals into the 

•Von Aberglauben friih und spat umgarni: 

Es eignet sich, es zeigt sich an, cs warm. 

(Faust. Part II, Act V. "Midnight”) 

Sei auch noch so viel bezeichnet. 

Was man fuerchtet, was Ijegehrt, 

Nur wcil es dem Dank sich eignet, 

1st das Leben schatzenswcrt. 

(To the Grand Duke Karl August for New Year 1828) 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



129 



appropriateness of their nature and there holds them. 

Because showing of Saying is appropriating, therefore the 
ability to listen to Saying— our belonging to it— also lies in 
Appropriation. In order to grasp this fact and all it implies, we 
would need to think through the nature of mortals with suffi- 
cient completeness in all its respects and rapports, but first of 
all to think through Appropriation as such. # Here, a suggestion 
must suffice. 

Appropriation, in beholding human nature, makes mortals 
appropriate for that which avows itself from everywhere to 
man in Saying, which points toward the concealed. Man's, the 
listener's, being made appropriate for Saying, has this distin- 
guishing character, that it releases human nature into its own, 
but only in order that man as he who speaks, that is, he who 
says, may encounter and answer Saying, in virtue of what is 
his property. It is: the sounding of the word. The encountering 
saying of mortals is answering. Every spoken word is already 
an answer: counter-saying, coming to the encounter, listening 
Saying. When mortals are made appropriate for Saying, human 
nature is released into that needfulness out of which man is 
used for bringing soundless Saying to the sound of language. 

Appropriation, needing and using man's appropriations, al- 
lows Saying to reach speech. The way to language belongs to 
Saying determined by Appropriation. Within this way, which 
belongs to the reality of language, the peculiar property of 
language is concealed. The way is appropriating. 

To clear a way, for instance across a snow -covered field, is in 
the Alemannic-Swabian dialect still called ivegen even today. 

•Compare Vortrdgc und Aufsdtze (1954): “Das Ding” p. 163 ff.; “Bauen 
VVohnen Denken” p. 145 ff.; “Die Frage nach der Technik” p. 13 ff.— Today, 
when so much thoughtless and half-thought matter is rushed into print any 
which way, it may seem incredible to many of my readers that I have used 
the word “appropriation” ( Ereignis ) in my manuscripts for more than 
twenty -five years to indicate what is here in my thoughts. The matter, 
while simple in itself, still remains difficult to think, because thinking 
must first overcome the habit of yielding to the view that we arc thinking 
here of "Being” as appropriation. But appropriation is different in nature, 
l>ecause it is richer than any conceivable definition of Being. Being, how- 
ever, in respect of its essential origin, can be thought of in terms of appro- 
priation. (M. H.) 




1 JO ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

This verb, used transitively, means: to form a way and, forming 
it, to keep it ready. Way-making understood in this sense no 
longer means to move something up or down a path that is 
already there. It means to bring the way . . . forth first of all, 
and thus to be the way. 

Appropriation appropriates man to its own usage. Showing 
as appropriating thus transpires and Appropriation is the way- 
making for Saying to come into language. 

This way-making puts language (the essence of language) as 
language (Saying) into language (into the sounded word). When 
we speak of the way to language now, we no longer mean only 
or primarily the progression of our thinking as it reflects on 
language. The way to language has become transformed along 
the way. From human activity it has shifted to the appropri- 
ating nature of language. But it is only to us and only with 
regard to ourselves that the change of the way to language 
appears as a shift which has taken place only now. In truth, 
the way to language has its unique region within the essence 
of language itself. But this means also: the way to language as 
we first had it in mind does not become invalid; it becomes 
possible and necessary only in virtue of the true way which is 
the appropriating, needful way-making. For, since the being 
of language, as Saying that shows, rests on Appropriation which 
makes us humans over to the releasement in which we can 
listen freely, therefore the way-making of Saying into speech 
first opens up for us the paths along which our thinking can 
pursue the authentic way to language. 

The formula for the way: to speak about speech qua speech, 
no longer merely contains a directive for us who are thinking 
about language, but says the forma, the Gestalt , in which the 
essence of language that rests'in Appropriation makes its way. 

If we attend without further thought only to the words of 
our formula, it expresses a mesh of relations in which language 
becomes entangled. It looks as if any attempt to form a notion 
of language required dialectical tricks to escape from this 
tangle. Yet such a procedure, which the formula seems literally 
to invite, loses the possibility of grasping the simplicity of the 
essence of language thoughtfully (that is, by entering idiomati- 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 1 3 1 

cally into the way-making movement), instead of trying to form 
a notion of language. 

What looks like a confused tangle becomes untangled when 
we see it in the light of the way-making movement, and re- 
solves into the release brought about by the way-making move- 
ment disclosed in Saying. That movement delivers Saying to 
speech. Saying keeps the way open along which speaking, as 
listening, catches from Saying what is to be said, and raises 
what it thus has caught and received into the sounding word. 
The way-making of Saying into spoken language is the deliver- 
ing bond that binds by appropriating. 

Language, thus delivered into its own freedom, can be con- 
cerned solely with itself. This sounds as if we were talking of a 
selfish solipsism. But language does not insist upon itself 
alone in the sense of a purely self-seeking, all-oblivious self- 
admiration. As Saying, the nature of language is the appro- 
priating showing which disregards precisely itself, in order to 
free that which is shown, to its authentic appearance. 

Language, which speaks by saying, is concerned that our 
speaking, in listening to the unspoken, corresponds to what is 
said. Thus silence, too, which is often regarded as the 
source of speaking, is itself already a corresponding.* Silence 
corresponds to the soundless tolling of the stillness of appro- 
pria ting-showing Saying. As Showing, Saying, which consists in 
Appropriation, is the mopt proper mode of Appropriating. 
Appropriation is by way of saying. Accordingly, language 
always speaks according to the mode in which the Appropria- 
tion as such reveals itself or withdraws. For a thinking that 
pursues the Appropriation can still only surmise it, and yet 
can experience it even now in the nature of modern technology, 
which we call by the still strange-sounding name of Framing 
(Ge-Sfe// ## ). Because Framing challenges man, that is, pro- 
vokes him to order and set up all that is present being as 
technical inventory, Framing persists after the manner of 
Appropriation, specifically by simultaneously obstructing 



•See Being and Time, pp. 203-11. (M. H.) 

•• See Identity and Difference, pp. 14n. (M. H.) 




132 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

Appropriation, in that all ordering finds itself channeled into 
calculative thinking and therefore speaks the language of 
Framing. Speaking is challenged to correspond in every respect 
to Framing in which all present beings can be commandeered. 

Within Framing, speaking turns into information.* It 
informs itself about itself in order to safeguard its own proce- 
dures by information theories. Framing— the nature of modem 
technology holding sway in all directions— commandeers for its 
purposes a formalized language, the kind of communication 
which “informs” man uniformly, that is, gives him the form in 
which he is fitted into the technological-calculative universe, 
and gradually abandons “natural language.” Even when infor- 
mation theory has to admit that formalized language must in 
the end always refer back to “natural language,” in order to 
put into speech the Saying of the technological inventory by 
means of nonformalized language, even this situation signifies 
only a preliminary stage in the current self-interpretation of 
information theory. For the “natural language” of which one 
must talk in this context is posited in advance as a not-yet- 
formalized language that is being set up to be framed 
in formalization. Formalization, the calculated availability of 
Saying, is the goal and the norm. The “natural” aspect of 
language, which the will to formalization still seems forced to 
concede for the time being, is not experienced and understood 
in the light of the originary nature of language. That nature is 
physis, w r hich in its turn is based on the appropriation from 
which Saying arises to move. Information theory conceives of 
the natural aspect of language as a lack of formalization. 

But even if a long way could lead to the insight that the 
nature of language can never be dissolved in formalism to 
become a part of its calculations, so that w f e accordingly must 
say that “natural language” is language which cannot be 
formalized— even then “natural language” is still being defined 
only negatively, that is, set off against the possibility or impossi- 
bility of formalization. 

But what if “natural language,” which in the eyes of infor- 
mation theory is no more than a troublesome residue, were 

•Sec Hebei der Hausjreund (1957). pp. 34 fl. (Nl. H.) 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 1 33 

drawing its nature, that is, the persistent nature of the being 
of language, from Saying? What if Saying, instead of merely 
impeding the destructiveness of information-language, had 
already overtaken it in virtue of the fact that Appropriation 
cannot be commandeered? What if Appropriation— no one 
knows when or how— were to become an insight whose illumi- 
nating lightening flash enters into what is and what is taken to 
be? What if Appropriation, by its entry, were to remove every- 
thing that is in present being from its subjection to a com- 
mandeering order and bring it back into its own? 

All human language is appropriated in Saying and as such 
is in the strict sense of the word true language— though its 
nearness to Appropriation may vary by various standards. All 
true language, because assigned, sent, destined to man by the 
way-making movement of Saying, is in the nature of destiny. V. 

There is no such thing as a natural language that would be 
the language of a human nature occurring of itself, without a 
destiny. All language is historical, even where man does not 
knt)w history in the modem European sense. Even language 
as information is not language per se, but historical in the sense 
and the limits of the present era, an era that begins nothing 
new but only carries the old, already outlined aspects of the 
modern age to their extreme. 

The origin of the word— that is, of human speaking in terms 
of Saying— its origin which is in the nature of Appropriation, is 
what constitutes the peculiar character of language. 

We recall at the end, as we did in the beginning, the words 
of Novalis: “The peculiar property of language, namely that 
language is concerned exclusively with itself— precisely that is 
known to no one.” Novalis understands that peculiarity in the 
meaning of the particularity which distinguishes language. In 
the experience of the nature of language, whose showing resides 
in Appropriation, the peculiar property comes close to owning 
and appropriating. Here the peculiar property of language 
receives the original charter of its destined determination, 
something we cannot pursue here. 

The peculiar property of language, which is determined by 
Appropriation, is even less knowable than the particularity of 




1 34 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

language, if to know means to have seen something in the 
wholeness of its nature, seen it in the round. We are not 
capable of seeing the nature of language in the round because 
we, who can only say something by saying it after Saying, 
^belong ourselves within Saying. The monologue character of 
the nature of language finds its structure in the disclosing 
design of Saying. That design does not and cannot coincide 
with the monologue of which Novalis is thinking, because 
Novalis understands language dialectically, in terms of sub- 
jectivity, that is, within the horizon of absolute idealism. 

But language is monologue. This now says two things: it is 
language alone which speaks authentically; and, language 
speaks lonesomely. Yet only he can be lonesome who is not 
alone, if "not alone" means not apart, singular, without any 
rapports. But it is precisely the absence in the lonesome of 
something in common which persists as the most binding bond 
with it. The "some" in lonesome is the Gothic sama t the Greek 
hama t and the English same. "Lonesome" means: the same in 
what unites that which belongs together. Saying that shows 
makes the way for language to reach human speaking. Saying 
is in need of being voiced in the word. But man is capable of 
speaking only insofar as he, belonging to Saying, listens to 
Saying, so that in resaying it he may be able to say a word. That 
needed usage and this resaying lie in that absence of something 
in common which is neither a mere defect nor indeed anything 
negative at all. 

In order to be who we are, we human beings remain com- 
mitted to and within the being of language, and can never step 
out of it and look at it from somewhere else. Thus we always 
see the nature of language only to the extent to which language 
itself has us in view, has appropriated us to itself. That we 
cannot know the nature of language— know it according to the 
traditional concept of knowledge defined in terms of cognition 
as representation— is not a defect, however, but rather an 
advantage by which we are favored with a special realm, that 
realm where we, who are needed and used to speak language, 
dwell as mortals. 

Saying will not let itself be captured in any statement. It 




THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



>35 



demands of us that we achieve by silence the appropriating, 
initiating movement within the being of language— and do so 
without talking about silence. 

Saying, which resides in Appropriation, is qua showing the 
most appropriate mode of appropriating. This sounds like a 
statement. If we hear only this statement, it does not say to us 
what is to be thought out. Saying is the mode in which Appro- 
priation speaks: mode not so much in the sense of modus or 
fashion, but as the melodic mode, the song which says some- 
thing in its singing. For appropriating Saying brings to light 
all present beings in terms of their properties— it lauds, that is, 
allows them into their own, their nature. Holderlin sings these 
words in the beginning of the eighth stanza of "Celebration 
of Peace": 

Much, from the morning onwards, 

Since we have been a discourse and have heard from one another 

Has human kind learnt; but soon we shall be song. # 

Language has been called "the house of Being."* • It is the 
keeper of being present, in that its coming to light remains 
entrusted to the appropriating show of Saying. Language is the 
house of Being because language, as Saying, is the mode of 
Appropriation. 

In order to pursue in thought the being of language and to 
say of it what is its own, a transformation of language is needed 
which we can neither compel nor invent. This transformation 
does not result from the procurement of newly formed words 
and phrases. It touches on our relation to language, which is 
determined by destiny: whether and in what way the nature of 
language, as the arch-tidings of Appropriation, will retain us 
in Appropriation. For that appropriating, holding, self- 
retaining is the relation of all relations. Thus our saying— 
always an answering— remains forever relational. Relation is 
thought of here always in terms of the appropriation, and no 
longer conceived in the form of a mere reference. Our relation 

•Friedrich Hblderlin, Poems and Fragments (Michael Hamburger; 
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), p. 438. (Tr.) 

••In Heidegger. Letter on Humanism, 1947. (Tr.) 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



136 

to language defines itself in terms of the mode in which we, 
who are needed in the usage of language, belong to the Appro- 
priation. 

We might perhaps prepare a little for the change in our 
relation to language. Perhaps this experience might awaken: 
All reflective thinking is poetic, and all poetry in turn is a kind 
of thinking. The two belong together by virtue of that Saying 
which has already bespoken itself to what is unspoken because 
it is a thought as a thanks. 

We know that the possibility of an innate transformation of 
language entered Wilhelm von Humboldt’s sphere of thought, 
from a passage in his treatise on “The Diversity of the Struc- 
ture of Human Language.” As his brother tells us in the fore- 
word, Humboldt worked on this treatise “lonesome, near a 
grave” until his death. 

Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose deep dark insights into the 
nature of language we must never cease to admire, says: 

The application of an already available phonetic form to the 
internal purposes of language . . . may be deemed possible in 
the middle periods of language development. A people could, 
by inner illumination and favorable external circumstances, 
impart so different a form to the language handed down to 
them that it would thereby turn into a wholly other, wholly new 
language. 

In a later passage we read: 

Without alterin the language as regards its sounds and even 
less its forms and laws, time — by a growing development of 
ideas, increased capacity for sustained thinking, and a more 
penetrating sensibility— will often introduce into language w r hat 
it did not possess before. Then the old shell is filled with 
a new meaning, the old coinage conveys something different, 
the old laws of syntax are used to hint at a differently gradu- 
ated sequence of ideas. All this is a lasting fruit of a people’s 
literature, and within literature especially of poetry and phi- 
losophy.* 

•The two passages will be found on pp. 55 anil 65 of the Buck & Raven 
translation. The rendering given here follows somewhat more closely the 
text cited by Heidegger. (Tr.) 




WORDS 




WORDS 



From where we are now, let us for a moment think 
about what Holderlin asks in his elegy “Bread and Wine” 
(stanza vi): 

Why are they silent, too, the theatres ancient and hallowed? 

Why not now does the dance celebrate, consecrate joy? ## 

The word is withheld from the former place of the gods' 
appearance, the word as it was once word. How was it then? 
The approach of the god took place in Saying itself. Saying was 
in itself the allowing to appear of that which the saying ones 
saw because it had already looked at them. That look brought 
the saying and the hearing ones into the un-finite intimacy of 
the strife between men and gods. However, That which is yet 
above the gods and men prevailed through this strife— as 
Antigone says! 

ou gar ti moi Zeus en, ho keruxas tade, 

(1. 450) 

•Translation by Joan Stambaugh. 

••Friedrich Holderlin. Poems and Fragments (tr. Michael Hamburger; 
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967), p. 249. 



*39 




140 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

“It was not Zeus who sent me the message” (but something 
other, that directing need). 

ou gar ti nun ge kachthes, all aei pote 
ze tauta, koudeis oiden ex hotou phane. 

( 11 . 456 / 7 ) 

“Not only today and tomorrow, but ever and ever it” (ho 
nomos, the directing need) “arises and no one has looked upon 
that place from which it came into radiance.” 

The poetic word of this kind remains an enigma. Its saying 
has long since returned to silence. May we dare to think about 
this enigma? We are already doing enough if we allow our- 
selves to be told the enigma of the word by poetry itself— in a 
poem with the title: 

WORDS 

Wonder or dream from distant land 
I carried to my country’s strand 

And waited till the twilit norn 

Had found the name within her bourn— 

Then I could grasp it close and strong 
It blooms and shines now the front along . . . 

Once I returned from happy sail, 

I had a prize so rich and frail, 

She sought for long and tidings told: 

“No like of this these depths enfold.” 

And straight it vanished from my hand. 

The treasure never graced my land . . . 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. # 

The poem was first published in the 1 ith and 12th series of 
“ Blatter fiir die Kunst” in 1919. Later (1928) Stefan George 
included it in the last volume of jwems published in his life- 
time, called Das Xeue Reich . 

The poem is structured in seven stanzas of two lines each. 
The final stanza not only concludes the poem, it opens it up 
•Tr. Peter Hertz. (J.S.) 




WORDS 



1 4 1 



at the same time. This is already evident in the fact that only 
the final stanza explicitly says what is in the title: Words. The 
final stanza reads: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

One is tempted to turn the final line into a statement with 
the content: No thing is where the word breaks off. Where 
something breaks off, there is a break, a breaking off. To do 
harm to something means to take something away from it, to 
let something be lacking. “It is lacking” means “it is missing.” 
Where the word is missing, there is no thing. 

It is only the word at our disposal which endows the thing 
with Being. 

What are words, that they have such power? 

What are things, that they need words in order to be? 

What does Being mean here, that it appears like an endow- 
ment which is dedicated to the thing from the word? 

Questions upon questions. These questions do not immedi- 
ately arouse our contemplation in the first hearing and reading 
of the poem. We are much more likely to be enchanted by the 
first six stanzas, for they tell of the poet's strangely veiled 
experiences. The final stanza, however, speaks in a more op- 
pressing way. It forces us to the unrest of thought. Only this 
final stanza makes us hear what, according to the title, is the 
poetic intent of the whole poem: Words. 

Is anything more exciting and more dangerous for the poet 
than his relation to words? Hardly. Is this relation first created 
by the poet, or does the word of itself and for itself need poe- 
try, so that only through this need does the poet become who 
he can be? All of this and much else besides gives food for 
thought and makes us thoughtful. Still, we hesitate to enter 
upon such reflection. For it is now' supported only by a single 
verse of the whole poem. What is more, we have changed this 
final verse into a statement. Of course, this act of change did 
not come about through sheer willfulness. Rather, we are al- 
most forced to make the change, as soon as we notice that the 
first line of the final stanza ends with a colon. The colon 




142 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



arouses the expectation that it will be followed by a statement. 
This is the case in the fifth stanza, too. At the end of the first 
line of that stanza there is also a colon: 

She sought for long and tidings told: 

“No like of this these depths enfold.” 

The colon opens something up. What follows speaks, seen 
grammatically, in the indicative: “No like of this . . . M Further- 
more, what the twilit norn says is placed between quotation 
marks. 

The case is different in the final stanza. Here, too, there is a 
colon at the end of the first line. But what follows the colon 
neither speaks in the indicative, nor are there quotation marks 
around what is said. What is the difference between the fifth 
and the seventh stanza? In the fifth stanza, the twilit norn 
announces something. The announcement is a kind of state- 
ment, a revelation. In contrast, the tone of the final stanza is 
concentrated in the word “renounce.” 

Renouncing is not stating, but perhaps after all a Saying. 
Renouncing belongs to the verb to forgive. Accusing, charging 
is the same word as showing, Greek deiknumi, Latin dicere. To 
accuse, to show means: to allow to be seen, to bring to appear- 
ance. This, however, showing and allowing to be seen, is the 
meaning of the old German word sagan, to say. To accuse, to 
charge someone means: to tell him something straight to his 
face. Accordingly, Saying dominates in forgiving, in renounc- 
ing. How so? Renouncing means: to give up the claim to some- 
thing, to deny oneself something. Because renouncing is a man- 
ner of Saying, it can be introduced in writing by a colon. Yet 
what follows the colon does not need to be a statement. The 
colon following the word ”renounce M does not disclose some- 
thing in the sense of a statement or an assertion. Rather, the 
colon discloses renunciation as Saying of that with which it is 
involved. With what is it involved? Presumably with that 
which renunciation renounces. 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 




WORDS 



H3 



But how? Does the poet renounce the fact that no thing may 
be where the word breaks off? By no means. The poet is so far 
from renouncing this that he actually assents to what is said. 
Thus the direction in which the colon discloses renunciation 
cannot tell of that which the poet renounces. It must rather 
tell of that with which the poet is involved. But renouncing 
indisputably means: to deny oneself something. Accordingly, 
the final verse must, after all, tell of what the poet denies him- 
self. Yes and no. 

How are we to think this? The final verse makes us more and 
more thoughtful and requires us to hear it more clearly as a 
whole, but to hear the whole as that stanza which at the same 
time discloses the poem through its conclusion. 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

The poet has learned renunciation. To learn means: to 
become knowing. In Latin, knowing is qui vidit , one who has 
seen, has caught sight of something, and who never again loses 
sight of what he has caught sight of. To learn means: to attain 
to such seeing. To this belongs our reaching it; namely on the 
way, on a journey. To put oneself on a journey, to experience, 
means to learn. 

On what journeys does the poet attain to his renunciation? 
Through what land do his journeys lead the traveler? How has 
the poet experienced renunciation? The final stanza gives the 
directive. 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

How? Just as the preceding six stanzas tell of it. Here the 
poet is speaking of his land. There he is speaking of his jour- 
neys. The fourth stanza begins: 

Once I returned from happy sail 

“Once” is used here in the old meaning which signifies “one 
time." In this meaning, it tells of a distinctive time, a unique 
experience. The telling of the experience, therefore, does not 
just begin abruptly with the “once." It demarcates itself sharply 




144 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



at the same time from all his other journeys, for the last verse 
of the immediately preceding third stanza terminates in three 
dots. The same is true of the last verse of the sixth stanza. 
Accordingly, the six stanzas which prepare for the seventh, the 
final stanza, are divided by clear signs into two groups of three 
stanzas, two triads. 

The poet’s journeys of which the first triad tells are of a 
different kind from the sole and unique journey to which the 
whole second triad is dedicated. In order to be able to con- 
template the poet’s journeys, particularly the unique one which 
allows him to experience renunciation, we must first consider 
the landscape to which the poet’s experiencing belongs. 

Twice— in the second verse of the first stanza and in the 
second verse of the sixth stanza, that is, at the beginning and at 
the end of the two triads— the poet says “my land.’’ The land is 
his as the assured area of his poetry. What his poetry requires 
are names. Names for what? 

The first verse of the poem gives the answer: 

Wonder or dream from distant land 

Names for what is borne to the poet from the distance as 
something full of wonder or for what visits him in dreams. For 
the poet, both of these mean in all assurance what truly con- 
cerns him, that which is. Yet he does not want to keep that 
which is to himself, but to portray it. In order to do this, names 
are necessary. They are words by which what already is and is 
believed to be is made so concrete and full of being that it 
henceforth shines and blooms and thus reigns as the beautiful 
everywhere in the land. The names are words that portray. 
They present what already is to representational thinking. By 
their power of portrayal the names bear witness to their decisive 
rule over things. The poet himself composes in virtue of the 
claim to the names. In order to reach them, he must first in his 
journeys attain to that place where his claim finds the required 
fulfillment. This happens at his country’s strand. The strand 
bounds, it arrests, limits and circumscribes the poet’s secure 




WORDS 



>45 

sojourn. The bourne, the well from which the twilit norn, the 
ancient goddess of fate, draws up the names is at the edge of 
the poet’s land— or is the edge itself the well? With these names 
she gives the poet those words which he, confidently and sure 
of himself, awaits as the portrayal of what he believes to be 
that which is. The poet's claim to the rule of his Saying is 
fulfilled. The flourishing and shining of his poetry become 
presence. The poet is sure of his word, and just as fully in 
command of it. The last stanza of the first triad begins with the 
decisive “then." 

Then I could grasp it full and strong 
It blooms and shines now the front along . . . 

Let us pay keen attention to the shift in the tenses of the 
verbs in the second verse of this stanza as compared with the 
first. The verbs now speak in the present tense. The rule of 
poetry is completed. It has reached its goal and is perfected. 
No lack, no doubt disturbs the poet’s self-assurance. 

Until a wholly different experience strikes him. It is told in 
the second triad which is formed in exact correspondence to the 
first. The characteristics of this correspondence are these: the 
last stanzas of both triads each begins with temporal indica- 
tions— “Then," “And straight." A dash at the end of the second 
verse precedes the “Then." A sign also precedes the “And 
straight"— the quotation mark in the fifth stanza. 

From his unique journey the poet no longer brings “wonder 
or dream from distant land" to his country’s strand. After a 
good journey he arrives with a treasure at the source of the 
norn. The treasure’s origin remains obscure. The poet simply 
holds it in his hand. What lies in his hand is neither a dream 
nor something fetched from a distance. Hut the strange precious 
jewel is both “rich and frail." Hence the goddess of fate must 
search long for the jewel’s name and must finally take leave of 
the poet with the message: 

“No like of this these depths enfold.” 

The names held in the depths of the well are taken as some- 




146 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

thing slumbering which only needs to be awakened in order to 
be used for the portrayal of things. The names and words are 
like a staple supply coordinated with the things and retro- 
actively given them for the portrayal. But this source from 
which until now poetic Saying took its words— words which as 
names portrayed that which is— this source no longer bestows 
anything. 

What experience befalls the poet? Only this, that the name 
never comes for the treasure lying in his hand? Only this, that 
now the treasure must do without its name, but may otherwise 
remain in the poet's hand? No. Something else, something 
disturbing happens. However, neither the absence of the name 
nor the slipping away of the treasure is what is disturbing. 
What is disturbing is the fact that with the absence of the word, 
the treasure disappears. Thus, it is the word which first holds 
the treasure in its presence, indeed first fetches and brings it 
there and preserves it. Suddenly the word shows a different, a 
higher rule. It is no longer just a name-giving grasp reaching 
for what is present and already portrayed, it is not only a means 
of portraying what lies before us. On the contrary, the word 
first bestows presence, that is, Being in which things appear as 
beings. 

This different rule of the word glances abruptly at the poet. 
At the same time, however, the word which thus rules remains 
absent. Hence the treasure slips away. But it by no means 
disintegrates into nothingness. It remains a treasure, although 
the poet may never keep it in his land. 

And straight it vanished from my hand, 

The treasure never graced my land . . . 

May we go so far as to think that the poet’s journeys to the 
norn’s source have now come to an end? Presumably we may. 
For by this new experience the poet has caught sight of a 
different rule of the word, although in a veiled manner. Where 
does this experience take the poet and his previous poetry? 
The poet must relinquish the claim to the assurance that he 
will on demand be supplied with the name for that which he 




WORDS 



*47 



has posited as what truly is. This positing and that claim he 
must now deny himself. The poet must renounce having words 
under his control as the portraying names for what is posited. 
As self-denial, renunciation is a Saying which says to itself: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

While we were discussing the first six stanzas and considering 
what journey allowed the poet to experience his renunciation, 
the renunciation itself has also become somewhat clearer to 
us. Only somewhat; for much still remains obscure in this 
poem, above all the treasure for which the name is denied. 
This is also the reason why the poet cannot say what this 
treasure is. We have even less right to conjecture about it than 
he, unless the poem itself were to give us a hint. It does so. We 
perceive it if we listen thoughtfully enough. To do so it is 
enough that we ponder something which must now make us 
most thoughtful of all. 

The insight into the poet’s experience with the word, that is, 
the insight into the renunciation he has learned, compels us to 
ask the question: why could the poet not renounce Saying, 
once he had learned renunciation? Why does he tell precisely 
of renunciation? Why does he go so far as to compose a poem 
with the title "Words”? Answer: Because this renunciation is a 
genuine renunciation, not just a rejection of Saying, not a mere 
lapse into silence. As self-denial, renunciation remains Saying. 
It thus preserves the relation to the word. But because the 
word is shown in a different, higher rule, the relation to the 
word must also undergo a transformation. Saying attains to a 
different articulation, a different melos, a different tone. The 
poem itself, which tells of renunciation, bears witness to the 
fact that the poet's renunciation is experienced in this sense— 
by singing of renunciation. For this poem is a song. It belongs 
to the last part of the last volume of poems published by Stefan 
George himself. This last part bears the title "Song,” and 
begins with the prologue: 

What I still ponder and what I still frame, 

What I still love — their features are the same. 




148 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



Pondering, framing, loving is Saying: a quiet, exuberant 
bow, a jubilant homage, a eulogy, a praise: laudare. Laudes is 
the Latin name for songs. To recite song is: to sing. Singing is 
the gathering of Saying in song. If we fail to understand the 
lofty meaning of song as Saying, it becomes the retroactive 
setting to music of what is spoken and written. 

With Song , with the last poems collected under this title, the 
poet definitively leaves the sphere that earlier was his own. 
Where does he go? To renunciation, which he has learned. 
This learning was a sudden experience which he had in that 
instant when the wholly different rule of the word looked at 
him and disturbed the self-assurance of his earlier Saying. 
Something undreamed of, something terrifying stared him in 
the face— that only the word lets a thing be as thing. 

From that moment on, the poet must answer to this mystery 
of the word— the mystery of which he has barely an inkling, and 
which he can only surmise in his pondering. He can succeed 
only when the poetic word resounds in the tone of the song. 
We can hear this tone with particular clarity in one of the 
songs which, without a title, is published for the first time in 
the last part of the last book of poems ( Das Neue Reich , p. 137). 

In the stillest peace 
of a musing day 
Suddenly breaks a sight which 
With undreamed terror 
Troubles the secure soul 

As when on the heights 
The solid stem 
Towers motionless in pride 
And then late a storm 
bends it to the ground: 

As when the sea 

With shrill scream 

With wild crash 

Once again thrusts 

Into the long-abandoned shell. 




WORDS 



149 



The rhythm of this song is as marvelous as it is clear. It is 
enough to suggest it with a short remark. Rhythm, rhusmos, 
does not mean flux and flowing, but rather form. Rhythm is 
what is at rest, what forms the movement of dance and song, 
and thus lets it rest within itself. Rhythm bestows rest. In the 
song we just heard, the structure shows itself if we pay heed to 
the one fugue which sings to us, in three forms, in the three 
stanzas: secure soul and sudden sight, stem and storm, sea 
and shell. 

But the strange thing about this song is a mark which the 
poet sets down, the only mark besides the final period. Even 
stranger is the place where he has put the mark— the colon at 
the end of the last line of the middle stanza. This mark, in this 
place, is all the more astonishing because both stanzas, the 
middle and the last one, begin alike with an as that refers back 
to the first 5tanza: 



As when on the heights 
The solid stem 

and: 

As when the sea 
With shrill scream 

Both stanzas appear to be arranged in the same way with 
regard to their sequence. But they are not. The colon at the 
end of the middle stanza makes the next and final stanza refer 
back explicitly to the first stanza, by including the second 
stanza with the first in its reference. The first stanza speaks of 
the poet disturbed in his security. But yet the “undreamed 
terror” does not destroy him. But it does bend him to the 
ground as the storm bends the tree, so that he may become 
open for that of which the third stanza sings after the opening 
colon. Once again the sea thrusts its unfathomable voice into 
the poet’s ears which are called the “long-abandoned shell”; 
for until now the poet remained without the purely bestowed 
prevalence of the word. Instead, the names required by the 
norn nourished the self-assurance of his masterful proclamation. 




* 5 ° 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



The renunciation thus learned is no mere refusal of a claim, 
but rather the transformation of Saying into the echo of an 
inexpressible Saying whose sound is barely perceptible and 
songlike. Now we should be in a better position to ponder the 
last stanza so that it may itself speak in such a way that the 
whole poem is gathered up in it. If we were to succeed in this 
even to a small degree, we might, at favorable moments, hear 
more clearly the title of the poem Words, and understand how 
the final stanza not only concludes the poem, not only reveals 
it, but how it at the same time conceals the mystery of the 

word. _ w , 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

The final stanza speaks of the word in the manner of re- 
nunciation. Renunciation is in itself a Saying: self-denial . . . 
namely denying to oneself the claim to something. Understood 
in this way, renunciation retains a negative character: “no 
thing/' that is, not a thing; “the word breaks off/' that is, it is 
not available. According to the rule, double negation produces 
an affirmation. Renunciation says: a thing may be only where 
the word is granted. Renunciation speaks affirmatively. The 
mere refusal not only does not exhaust the essence of renunci- 
ation, it does not even contain it. Renunciation does have a 
negative side, but it has a positive side as well. But to talk 
about sides here is misleading. In so doing we equate what 
denies and what affirms and thus obscure what truly rules in 
Saying. This we must think about above all else. Still more. 
We need to consider what kind of renunciation the final stanza 
means. It is unique in its kind, because it isn’t related to just 
any possession of just anything. As self-denial, that is, as Saying, 
renunciation concerns the word itself. Renunciation gets the 
relation to the word underway toward that which concerns 
every Saying as Saying. We suspect that in this self-denial the 
relation to the word gains a nearly “excessive intimacy.” The 
enigmatic quality of the final stanza grows beyond us. Nor 
would we want to solve it, that enigmatic quality, but only to 
read, to gather our thoughts about it. 




WORDS 



1 5 l 

At first we think renunciation as denying-oneself-something. 
Grammatically, “oneself* is in the dative case and refers to the 
poet. What the poet denies himself is in the accusative case. It 
is the claim to the representational rule of the word. Mean- 
while, another characteristic of this renunciation has come to 
light. Renunciation commits itself to the higher rule of the 
word which first lets a thing be as thing. The word makes the 
thing into a thing— it “bethings" the thing. We should like to 
call this rule of the word “bethinging" ( die Bcdingnis). This 
old word has disappeared from linguistic usage. Goethe still 
knew it. In this context, however, bethinging says something 
different from talking about a condition, which was still 
Goethe's understanding of bethinging. A condition is the 
existent ground for something that is. The condition gives 
reasons, and it grounds. It satisfies the principle of sufficient 
reason. But the word does not give reasons for the thing. The 
word allows the thing to presence as thing. We shall call this 
allowing bethinging. The poet does not explain what this 
bethinging is. But the poet commits himself, that is, his Saying 
to this mystery of the word. In such commitment, he who 
renounces denies himself to the claim which he formerly willed. 
The meaning of self-denial has been transformed. The “self 
is no longer in the dative but the accusative case, and the claim 
is no longer in the accusative but the dative case. The poet's 
own transformation is concealed in the transformation of the 
grammatical meaning of the phrase “to deny the claim to one- 
self into “to deny oneself to the claim.*' He has allowed 
himself— that is, such Saying as will still be possible for him in 
the future— to be brought face to face with the word's mystery, 
the be-thinging of the thing in the word. 

However, even in this transformed self-denial, the negative 
character of renunciation still maintains the upper hand. Yet it 
became clearer and clearer that the poet’s renunciation is in no 
way a negation, but rather an affirmation. Self-denial— which 
appears to be only refusal and self-withdrawal— is in truth 
nondenial of self: to the mystery of the word. This nondenial 
of self can speak in this way only, that it says: “may there be." 




l 5* 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



From now on may the word be: the bethinging of the thing. 
This “may there be” lets be the relation of word and thing, 
what and how it really is. Without the word, no thing is. In the 
“may there be, M renunciation commits itself to the “is.” Hence 
no retroactive transformation of the final verse into a state- 
ment is needed in order to make the “is” appear. “May there 
be” extends to us the “is” in a veiled and therefore purer 
fashion. 



Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

In this nondenial of self, renunciation says itself as that kind 
of Saying which owes itself wholly to the mystery of the word. 
In nondenial of self, renunciation is an owing of self. Here is 
the abode of renunciation. Renunciation owes thanks— it is a 
thanking. It is not mere refusal, still less a loss. 

But why, then, is the poet sad? 

So I renounced and sadly see: 

Is it renunciation that makes him sad? Or did sadness come 
over him only when he learned renunciation? In the latter 
case, the sadness which recently burdened his spirit could have 
disappeared again as soon as he had embraced renunciation as 
a thanks; for owing oneself as thanking is attuned to joy. The 
tone of joy is heard in another song. That poem, too, is without 
a title. But it bears such a strangely unique mark that we are 
compelled to listen to it in virtue of its inner kinship to the 
song Words ( Das Neue Reich , p. 125). It reads: 

What bold-easy step 

Walks through the innermost realm 

Of grandame’s fairytale garden? 

What rousing call does the bugler’s 
Silver horn cast in the tangle 
Of the Saying’s deep slumber? 




WORDS 



!53 



What secret breath 
Of melancholy just fled 
Nestles into the soul? 

Stefan George is in the habit of writing all words with small 
initials* except those at the beginning of the lines. But in this 
poem there is a single capitalized word, almost at the center of 
the poem at the end of the middle stanza. The word is: Saying. 
The poet could have chosen this word for the poem's title, with 
the hidden allusion that Saying, as the tale of the fairy tale 
garden, tells of the origin of the word. 

The first stanza sings of the step as the journey through the 
realm of Saying. The second stanza sings of the call that 
awakens Saying. The third stanza sings of the breath that 
nestles into the soul. Step (that is, way) and call and breath 
hover around the rule of the word. Its mystery has not only 
disturbed the soul that formerly was secure. It has also taken 
away the soul’s melancholy which threatened to drag it down. 
Thus, sadness has vanished from the poet’s relation to the 
word. This sadness concerned only his learning of renunci- 
ation. All this would be true if sadness were the mere opposite 
to joy, if melancholy and sadness were identical. 

But the more joyful the joy, the more pure the sadness 
slumbering within it. The deeper the sadness, the more sum- 
moning the joy resting within it. Sadness and joy play into 
each other. The play itself which attunes the two by letting 
the remote be near and the near be remote is pain. This is why 
both, highest joy and deepest sadness, are painful each in its 
way. But pain so touches the spirit of mortals that the spirit 
receives its gravity from pain. That gravity keeps mortals with 
all their wavering at rest in their being. The spirit which 
answers to pain, the spirit attuned by pain and to pain, is 
melancholy. It can depress the spirit, but it can also lose its 
burdensomeness and let its “secret breath” nestle into the soul, 
bestow upon it the jewel which arrays it in the precious rela- 
tion to the word, and with this raiment shelters it. 

This, presumably, is what the third stanza of our last poem 

• In standard German, all nouns are capitalized. (Tr.) 




*54 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



has in mind. With the secret breath of melancholy just fled, 
sadness permeates renunciation itself; for sadness belongs to 
renunciation if we think renunciation in its innermost gravity. 
That gravity is the nondenial of self to the mystery of the 
word, to the fact that the word is the bethinging of the thing. 

As mystery, the word remains remote. As a mystery that is 
experienced, the remoteness is near. The perdurance of this 
remoteness of such nearness is the nondenial of self to the 
word's mystery. There is no word for this mystery, that is, no 
Saying which could bring the being of language to language. 

The treasure which never graced the poet's land is the 
word for the being of language. The word’s rule and sojourn, 
abruptly caught sight of, its presencing, would like to enter its 
own word. But the word for the being of the word is not 
granted. 

What if this, the word for the presencing of language, were 
alone the treasure which, close to the poet since it lies in his 
hand, still vanishes and yet, having vanished, never having 
been captured, still remains what is most remote in the nearest 
nearness? In this nearness, the treasure is mysteriously familiar 
to the poet, otherwise he could not sing of it as “rich and 
frail." 

Rich means: capable of bestowing, capable of offering, of 
allowing to attain and reach. But this is the word's essential 
richness that in Saying, that is, in showing, it brings the thing 
as thing to radiance. 

Frail means according to the old verb zarton the same as: 
familiar, giving joy, saving. Saving is an offering and a releas- 
ing, but without will and force, without addiction and 
dominance. 

The treasure rich and frail is the word's hidden essence 
(verbal) which, invisibly in its Saying and even already in what 
is unsaid, extends to us the thing as thing. 

His renunciation having pledged itself to the word’s mystery, 
the poet retains the treasure in remembrance by renunciation. 
In this way, the treasure becomes that which the poet— he who 
says— prefers above all else and reveres above everything else. 




WORDS 



! 55 



The treasure becomes what is truly worthy of the poet’s 
thought. For what could be more worthy of thought for the 
saying one than the word's being veiling itself, than the fading 
word for the word? 

If we listen to the poem as a song in harmony with kindred 
songs, we then let the poet tell us, and let ourselves be told 
together with him, what is worthy of the thinking of poetic 
being. 

To let ourselves be told what is worthy of thinking means— 
to think. 

While listening to the poem, we are pondering poetry. This 
is how making poetry and thinking are. 

What at first looks like the title of a thesis— making poetry 
and thinking— turns out to be the inscription in which our 
destined human existence has ever been inscribed. The inscrip- 
tion records that poetry and thinking belong together. Their 
coming together has come about long ago. As we think back to 
that origin, we come face to face with what is primevally 
worthy of thought, and which we can never ponder sufficiently. 
It is the same element worthy of thought that glanced abruptly 
at the poet and to which he did not deny himself when he said: 

Where word breaks off no thing may be. 

The word’s rule springs to light as that which makes the 
thing be a thing. The word begins to shine as the gathering 
which first brings what presences to its presence. 

The oldest word for the rule of the word thus thought, for 
Saying, is logos: Saying which, in showing, lets beings appear 
in their "it is.” 

The same word, however, the word for Saying, is also the 
word for Being , that is, for the presencing of beings. Saying and 
Being, word and thing, belong to each other in a veiled way, 
a way which has hardly been thought and is not to be thought 

out to the end. ' 

* 

All essential Saying hearkens back to this veiled mutual 
belonging of Saying and Being, word and thing. Both poetry 




1 56 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

and thinking are distinctive Saying in that they remain deliv- 
ered over to the mystery of the word as that which is most 
worthy of their thinking, and thus ever structured in their 
kinship. 

In order that we may in our thinking fittingly follow and 
lead this element worthy of thought as it gives itself to poetry, 
we abandon everything which we have now said to oblivion. 
We listen to the poem. We grow still more thoughtful now 
regarding the possibility that the more simply the poem sings 
in the mode of song, the more readily our hearing may err. 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



A Discussion on Georg Trakl's Poetic Work 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



A Discussion on Georg Trakl's Poetic Work 



We use the word “discuss” here to mean, first, to 
point out the proper place or site of something, to situate it, 
and second, to heed that place or site. The placing and the 
heeding are both preliminaries of discussion. And yet it will 
require all our daring to take no more than these preliminary 
steps in what follows. Our discussion, as befits a thinking way, 
ends in a question. That question asks for the location of the 
site. 

Our discussion speaks of Georg Trakl only in that it thinks 
about the site of his poetic work. To an age whose historical, 
biographical, psychoanalytical, and sociological interest is 
focused on bare expression, such a procedure must seem 
patently one-sided, if not wayward. Discussion gives thought 
to the site. 

Originally the word “site” suggests a place in which every- 
thing comes together, is concentrated. The site gathers unto 
itself, supremely and in the extreme. Its gathering power pene- 
trates and pervades everything. The site, the gathering power. 



>59 




1 6o 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



gathers in and preserves all it has gathered, not like an encap- 
sulating shell but rather by penetrating with its light all it has 
gathered, and only thus releasing it into its own nature. 

Our task now is to discuss the site that gathers Georg Trakl’s 
poetic Saying into his poetic work— to situate the site of 
Trakl’s work. 

Every great poet creates his poetry out of one single poetic 
statement only. The measure of his greatness is the extent to 
which he becomes so committed to that singleness that he is 
able to keep his poetic Saying wholly within it. 

The poet’s statement remains unspoken. None of his indi- 
vidual poems, nor their totality, says it all. Nonetheless, every 
poem speaks from the whole of the one single statement, and 
in each instance says that statement. From the site of the state- 
ment there rises the wave that in each instance moves his 
Saying as poetic saying. But that wave, far from leaving the 
site behind, in its rise causes all the movement of Saying to 
flow back to its ever more hidden source. The site of the poetic 
statement, source of the movement-giving wave, holds within 
it the hidden nature of what, from a metaphysical-aesthetic 
point of view, may at first appear to be rhythm. 

Since the poet’s sole statement always remains in the realm 
of the unspoken, we can discuss its site only by trying to point 
to it by means of what the individual poems speak. But to do 
so, each poem will itself be in need of clarification. Clarification 
is what brings to its first appearance that purity which 
shimmers in everything said poetically. 

It is easy to see that any right clarification itself already 
presupposes discussion. The individual poems derive their 
light and sound only from the poetic site. Conversely, the 
discussion of the poetic statement must fust pass through the 
precursory clarification of individual poems. 

All thinking dialogue with a poet’s poetic statement stays 
within this reciprocity between discussion and clarification. 

Only a poetic dialogue with a poet’s poetic statement is a 
true dialogue— the poetic conversation between poets. But it 
is also possible, and at times indeed necessary, that there be a 
dialogue between thinking and poetry, for this reason: because 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 6 1 

a distinctive, though in each case different, relation to language 
is proper to them both. 

The dialogue of thinking with poetry aims to call forth the 
nature of language, so that mortals may learn again to live 
within language. 

The dialogue of thinking with poetry is long. It has barely 
begun. With respect to Trakl's poetic statement, the dialogue 
requires particular reserve. A thinking dialogue with poetry 
can serve the poetic statement only indirectly. Thus it is always 
in danger of interfering with the saying of the statement, 
instead of allowing it to sing from within its own inner peace. 

The discussion of the poetic statement is a thinking dialogue 
with poetry. It neither expounds a poet's outlook on the world, 
nor does it take inventory of his workshop. Above all, the 
discussion of the poetic statement can never be a substitute for 
or even guide to our listening to the poem. Thinking discussion 
can at best make our listening thought-provoking and, under 
the most favorable circumstances, more reflective. 

With these reservations in mind, we shall try first to point 
to the site of the unspoken statement. To do so we must start 
with the spoken poems. The question still is: with which 
poems? The fact that every one of Trakl’s poems points, with 
equal steadiness though not uniformly, to the statement’s one 
site, is evidence of the unique harmony of all his poems in the 
single key of his statement. 

But the attempt we shall now make to point out the site of 
his statement must make do with just a few selected stan/as, 
lines, and phrases. Our selection will inevitably seem arbitrary. 
However, it is prompted by our purpose to bring our con- 
sideration at once to the site of the statement, almost as if by a 
sudden leap of insight. 

I 



One of Trakl’s poems says: 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. 

Before we know what we are doing, we find ourselves 
through this sentence involved in a common notion. That 




1 62 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



notion presents the earth to us as earthly in the sense of 
transitory. The soul, by contrast, is regarded as imperishable, 
supraterrestrial. Beginning with Plato’s doctrine, the soul is 
part of the suprasensuous. If it appears within the sensible 
world, it does so only as a castaway. Here on earth the soul 
is miscast. It does not belong on earth. Here, the soul is some- 
thing strange. The body is the soul’s prison, if nothing worse. 
The soul, then, apparently has nothing else to look forward 
to except to leave as soon as possible the sensuous realm which, 
seen in Platonic terms, has no true being and is merely decay. 

And yet— how remarkable: the sentence 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. 

speaks from within a poem entitled “Springtime of the Soul” 
(i42). # And there is in that poem not one word about a supra- 
terrestrial home of the immortal soul. The matter gives us food 
for thought; we will do well to pay heed to the poet’s language. 
The soul: “something strange.” Trakl frequently uses the same 
construction in other poems: “something mortal” (51), “some- 
thing dark” (72, 164, 170, 187), “something solitary” (72), 
“something spent” (95), “something sick” (107, 165), “some- 
thing human” (108), “something pale” (132), “something dead” 
(165), “something silent” (188). Apart from its varying content, 
this construction does not always carry the same sense. Some- 
thing “solitary,” “something strange” could mean a singular 
something that in the given case is “solitary,” or by chance is 
in a special and limited sense “strange.” “Something strange” 
of that sort can be classified as belonging to the order of the 
strange in general, and can thus be disposed of. So understood, 
the soul would be merely one instance of strangeness among 
many. 

But what does “strange” mean? By strange we usually under- 
stand something that is not familiar, does not appeal to us— 

•The numbers in parentheses are the page numbers in the volume Georg 
Trakl, Die Dichtungen, published by Otto MUller Verlag, Salzburg, twelfth 
edition (no date). They differ from those cited in Heidegger’s published 
text, which refers to an earlier edition. (Tr.) 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 63 

something that is rather a burden and an unease. But the 
word we are using— the German “fremd,” the Old High Ger- 
man "/ram'-really means: forward to somewhere else, under- 
way toward . . onward to the encounter with what is kept in 
store for it. The strange goes forth, ahead. But it does not roam 
aimlessly, without any kind of determination. The strange 
element goes in its search toward the site where it may stay in 
its wandering. Almost unknown to itself, the "strange” is 
already following the call that calls it on the way into its own. 

The poet calls the soul "something strange on the earth.” 
The earth is that very place which the soul's wandering could 
not reach so far. The soul only seeks the earth; it does not 
flee from it. This fulfills the soul’s being: in her wandering 
to seek the earth so that she may poetically build and dwell 
upon it, and thus may be able to save the earth as earth. The 
soul, then, is not by any means first of all soul, and then, 
besides and for whatever reason, also a stranger who does not 
belong on earth. 

On the contrary, the sentence: 

Something strange is the soul on the earth 

gives a name to the essential being of what is called soul. 
The sentence does not predicate something about the soul 
whose nature is already known, as though the point were 
merely to make the supplementary statement that the soul 
had suffered the unfitting and thus strange accident of finding 
neither refuge nor response on earth. The soul, on the con- 
trary, qua soul is fundamentally, by its nature, "something 
strange on the earth.” Thus it is always underway, and in its 
wandering follows where its nature draws it. We, meanwhile, 
are pressed by this question: whither has this "something 
strange,” in the sense just made clear, been called to turn its 
steps? A stanza from the third part of the poem "Sebastian 
in Dream” (99) gives the answer: 

O how still is a walk down the blue river’s bank 
To ponder forgotten things, when in leafy boughs 
The thrush called to a strange thing to go under. 




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ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



The soul is called to go under. Then it is so after all: the 
soul is to end its earthly journey and leave the earth behind! 
Nothing of the sort is said in the verses just quoted. And 
yet they speak of “going under." Certainly. But the going 
under of which these verses speak is neither a catastrophe, 
nor is it a mere withering away in decay. Whatever goes under, 
going down the blue river. 

Goes down in peace and silence. 

(Transfigured Autumn, 30) 

Into what peace does it go? The peace of the dead? But of 
which dead? And into what silence? 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. 

The stanza in which this sentence belongs continues: 

. . . Ghostly the twilight dusk 
Bluing above the mishewn forest . . . 

Earlier, the sun is mentioned. The stranger’s footfall goes 
away into the dusk. “Dusk” means, first, darkness falling. 
“Dusk bluing.” Is the sunny day’s blueness darkening? Does 
it fade in the evening to give way to night? But dusk is not 
a mere sinking of the day, the dissolution of its brightness 
in the gloom of night. Dusk, anyway, does not necessarily 
mean the twilight of the end. The morning, too, has its 
twilight. The day rises in twilight. Twilight, then, is also 
a rising. Twilight dusk blues over the “mishewn,” tangled, 
withered forest. The night's blueness rises, in the evening. 

The twilight dusk blues “ghostly.” This “ghostliness” is 
what marks the dusk. We must give thought to what this 
oft-named “ghostliness” means. The twilight dusk is the sun’s 
descending course. That implies: twilight dusk is the decline 
both of the day and of the year. The last stanza of a poem 
called “Summer's End” (163) sings: 

So quiet has the green summer grown 
And through the silvery night there rings 
The footfall of the stranger. 

Would that the blue wild game were to recall his paths, 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



165 

The music of his ghostly years! 

These words, “so quiet,” recur in Trakl’s poetry again and 
again. One might think that “quiet” means at most a barely 
audible sound. So understood, what was said refers to our 
perception. However, “quiet” means slow, slowly fading 
away. Quiet is what slips away. Summer slips away into 
autumn, the evening of the year. 

. . . through the silvery night there rings 
the footfall of the stranger. 

Who is this stranger? Whose paths are they that a “blue 
wild game” is to recall? To recall means to “ponder forgotten 
things,” 

. . . when in leafy boughs 

The thrush called to a strange thing to go under. 

In what sense is the “blue wild game” (cf. 73, 139) to recall 
what is going under? Does the wild game receive its blue from 
the “blueness” of the “ghostly twilight dusk” which rises as 
night? The night is dark, to be sure. But darkness is not 
necessarily gloom. In another poem (133) night is apostro- 
phized with these w r ords: 

O gentle corn flower sheaf of night. 

Night is a cornflower sheaf, a gentle sheaf. So, too, the 
blue game is called “shy game” (98), the “gentle animal” (91). 
The sheaf of blueness gathers the depth of the holy in the 
depths of its bond. The holy shines out of the blueness, even 
while veiling itself in the dark of that blueness. The holy 
withholds in withdrawing. The holy bestows its arrival by 
reserving itself in its withholding withdrawal. Clarity sheltered 
in the dark is blueness. “Clear” originally means clear sound, 
the sound that calls out of the shelter of stillness, and so 
becomes clear. Blueness resounds in its clarity, ringing. In its 
resounding clarity shines the blue’s darkness. 

The stranger’s footfalls sound through the silvery gleam 
and ringing of night. Another poem (98) says: 




i66 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



And in holy blueness shining footfalls ring forth. 

Elsewhere it is said of blueness (104): 

. . . the holiness of blue flowers . . . moves the beholder. 
Another poem says (79): 

. . . Animal face 

Freezes with blueness, with its holiness. 

Blue is not an image to indicate the sense of the holy. Blue- 
ness itself is the holy, in virtue of its gathering depth which 
shines forth only as it veils itself. Face to face with blueness, 
brought up short by sheer blueness, the animal face freezes and 
transforms itself into the countenance of the wild game. 

The frozen rigor of the animal face is not the rigor of the 
dead. As it freezes, the startled animal face contracts. Its 
gaze gathers so that, checking its course, it may look toward 
the holy, into the “mirror of truth” (79). To look means 
here to enter into silence. 

Mighty the power of silence in the rock 

runs the next line. The rock is the mountain sheltering 
pain. The stones gather within their stony shelter the sooth- 
ing power, pain stilling us toward essential being. Pain is still 
“with blueness.” Face to face with blueness, the wild game's 
face retracts into gentleness. Gentleness transmutes discord 
by absorbing the wounding and searing wildness into ap- 
peased pain. 

Who is this blue wild game to whom the poet calls out that 
it recall the stranger? Is it an animal? No doubt. Is it just an 
animal? No. For it is called on to recall, to think. Its face is 
to look our for . . ., and to look on the stranger. The blue 
game is an animal whose animality presumably does not con- 
sist in its animal nature, but in that thoughtfully recalling 
look for which the poet calls. This animality is still far away, 
and barely to be seen. The animality of the animal here 
intended thus vacillates in the indefinite. It has not yet been 
gathered up into its essential being. This animal— the think- 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 67 

ing animal, animal rationale, man— is, as Nietzsche said, not 
yet determined. 

This statement does not mean at all that man has not yet 
been “confirmed" as a factum. On the contrary, he is all too 
firmly confirmed as a factum. The word means: this animal's 
animality has not yet been gathered up onto firm ground, 
that is to say, has not been gathered “home," into its own, 
the home of its veiled being. This definition is what Westem- 
European metaphysics has been struggling to achieve ever 
since Plato. It may be struggling in vain. It may be that its 
way into the “underway” is still blocked. This animal not 
yet determined in its nature is modem man. 

By the poetic name “blue wild game" Trakl evokes that 
human nature whose countenance, whose countering glance, 
is sighted by the night's blueness, as it is thinking of the 
stranger’s footfalls and thus is illumined by the holy. The 
name “blue game" names mortals who would think of the 
stranger and wander with him to the native home of human 
being. 

Who are they that begin such a journey? Presumably they 
are few, and unknown, since what is of the essence comes to 
pass in quiet, and suddenly, and rarely. The poet speaks of 
such wanderers in the second stanza of his poem “Winter 
Evening" (120) which begins: 

Many a man in his wanderings 
Comes to the gate by darksome paths. 

The blue game, where and when it is in being, has left the 
previous form of man's nature behind. Previous man decays 
in that he loses his being, which is to say, decays. 

Trakl calls one of his poems “Seven-Song of Death.” Seven 
is the holy number. The song sings of the holiness of death. 
Death is not understood here vaguely, broadly, as the conclu- 
sion of earthly life. “Death" here means poetically the “going 
down” to which “something strange” is being called. This is 
why the “something strange” that is being called is also referred 
to as “something dead” (134) . Its death is not decay, but that 




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it leaves behind the form of man which has decayed. Accord- 
ingly, the second stan/a from the end of “Seven-Song of Death” 
(134) says: 

O man’s decomposed form: joined of cold metals, 

Night and terror of sunken forests, 

And the animal’s searing wildness: 

Windless lull of the soul. 

Man’s decomposed form is abandoned to searing torture and 
pricking thorns. Blueness does not irradiate its wildness. The 
soul of this human form is not fanned by the wind of the holy. 
And so, it has no course. The wind itself, God’s wind, thus 
remains solitary. A poem speaking of blue wild game— which, 
however, can as yet barely extricate themselves from the 
“thicket of thorns”— closes with the lines (93): 

There always sings 

Upon black walls God’s solitary wind. 

“Always” means: as long as the year and its solar course 
remain in the gloom of winter and no one thinks of the path 
on which the stranger with “ringing footfalls” walks through 
the night. The night is itself only the sheltering veiling of the 
sun’s course. “Walk,” icnai, is the Indogermanic ier, the year. 

Would that the blue wild game were to recall his paths, 

The music of his ghostly years! 

The year’s ghostliness is defined by the ghostly twilight of 
the night. 

O how earnest the hyacimhinc face of the twilight. 

( Wayfaring, 96) 

The ghostly twilight is of so essential a nature that the poet 
gave to one of his poems the specific title “Ghostly Twilight” 
(131). In that poem, too. wild game is met, but this game is 
dark. Its wildness, moreover, is drawing toward total darkness, 
and inclining toward the silent blue. Meanwhile, the poet him- 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 69 

self, on “black cloud,” travels over “the nighting pond, the 
starry sky.” 

The poem goes: 

Ghostly Twilight 

Still at the forest’s edge meets 

Dark wild game; 

On the hill, evening breeze softly expires, 

Blackbird's plaint falls silent. 

And the gende flutes of autumn 

Hush in the rushes. 

On black cloud, you 

Drunk with poppy travel 

The nighting pond, 

The starry sky. 

Always the sister’s lunar voice 

Sounds through the ghostly night. 

The starry sky is portrayed in the poetic image of the night- 
ing pond. Such would be our usual notion. But the night sky, 
in the truth of its nature, is this pond. By contrast, what we 
otherwise call night remains rather a mere image, the pale 
and empty counterfeit of night’s nature. The pond and the 
pond’s mirror recur often in the poet’s work. The waters, 
which are sometimes black and sometimes blue, show to man 
his own countenance, his countering glance. But in the nighting 
pond of the starry sky there appears the twilight blue of the 
ghostly night. Its glance is cool. 

The cool light issues from the shining of Dame Moon 
(, selanna ) . All around her radiance, as the ancient Greek 
verses tell us, the stars turn pale and even cool. All things 
become “lunar.” The stranger going through the night is called 
“the lunar one” (128) . The sister’s lunar voice forever ringing 
through the night is heard by the brother who, in his boat that 
is still “black” and barely illumined by the stranger’s golden 
radiance, tries to follow the stranger’s nocturnal course upon 
the pond. 

When mortals follow after the “something strange,” that is 




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to say, after the stranger who is called to go under, they them- 
selves enter strangeness, they themselves become strangers and 
solitary. 

Only through its course on the night’s starry pond— which is 
the sky above the earth— does the soul experience the earth in 
its “cool sap” (120) . The soul slips away into the evening blue 
of the ghostly year. It becomes the “autumnal soul” and as such 
the “blue soul.” 

The few stanzas and lines noted here point into the ghostly 
twilight, lead onto the stranger’s path, and indicate the kind 
and the course of those who, recalling him, follow him to go 
under. At the time of “Summer’s Decline,” the strangeness 
in his wandering becomes autumnal and dark. 

One of Trakl’s poems which he entitled “Autumnal Soul” 
sings in the second stanza from the end (118) : 

Fish and game soon glide away. 

Soon blue soul and long dark journey 

Parted 11s from loved ones, others. 

Evening changes image, sense. 

The wanderers who follow' the stranger soon find themselves 
parted “from loved ones” who to them are “others.” The others 
—that is the cast of the decomposed form of man. 

A human cast, cast in one mold and cast away into this cast, 
is called a kin, of a kind, a generation. The word refers to man- 
kind as a w’hole as well as to kinship in the sense of race, tribe, 
family— all of these in turn cast in the duality of the sexes. The 
cast of man’s “decomposed form” is what the poet calls the 
“decomposing” kind (129) . It is the generation that has been 
removed from its kind of essential being, and this is why it is 
the “unsettled” kind (156). 

What curse has struck this humankind? The curse of the 
decomposing kind is that the old human kinship has been 
struck apart by discord among sexes, tribes and races. Each 
strives to escape from that discord into the unleashed turmoil 
of the always isolated and sheer wildness of the wild game. Not 
duality as such, the discord is the curse. Out of the turmoil of 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



171 



blind wildness it carries each kind into an irreconcilable split, 
and so casts it into unbridled isolation. The “fragmented kind,” 
so cleft in two, can on its own no longer find its proper cast. 
Its proper cast is only with that kind whose duality leaves 
discord behind and leads the way, as “something strange,” into 
the gentleness of simple twofoldness following in the stranger’s 
footsteps. 

With respect to that stranger, all the progeny of the decom- 
posing kind remain the others. Even so, love and reverence 
are attached to them. But the dark journey in the stranger’s 
train brings them into the blue of his night. The wandering 
soul becomes the “blue soul.” 

But at the same time the soul is also set apart. Where to? To 
where the stranger walks, who at times is poetically called only 
“he yonder.” “He yonder,” the stranger, is the other one to the 
others, to the decomposing kind. He is the one who has been 
called away from others. The stranger is he who is apart. 

Whither is such a being directed which itself assumes the 
nature of the strange, that it must wander ahead? In what 
direction is a strange thing called? It is called to go under— to 
lose itself in the ghostly twilight of the blue, to incline with the 
decline toward the ghostly year. While this decline must pass 
through the destructiveness of approaching winter, through 
November, to lose itself yet does not mean that it crumbles 
into a shambles and is annihilated. On the contrary, to lose 
oneself means literally to loosen one’s bonds and slowly slip 
away. He who loses himself does of course disappear in the 
November destruction, but he does not slip into it. He slips 
through it, away into the blue’s ghostly twilight “at vespers,” 
toward evening. 

At vespers the stranger loses himself in 
black November destruction, 

Under rotting branches, along the leprous walls. 

Where the holy brother had gone before. 

Lost in the soft lyre music of his madness. 

(Helian, 81) 




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Evening is the decline of the days of the ghostly year. 
Evening consummates a change. Evening which inclines to the 
ghostly gives us other things to contemplate and to ponder. 

The luminous appearances of whose aspects (images) the 
poets have their say appear differently in the light of this 
evening. The essential reality that thinkers try to grasp in 
thought speaks other words with the onset of this evening. 
From another sense and another image, evening transmutes 
all saying of poetry and thinking, and their dialogue. But 
evening can do so only because it, too, changes. Day goes 
through evening into a decline that is not an end, but simply 
an inclination to make ready that descent by which the 
stranger goes under into the beginning of his wandering. 
Evening changes its own image and its own sense. This change 
conceals a departure from the traditional order of days and 
seasons. 

But whither does evening accompany the blue soul's dark 
wandering? To the place where everything has come together 
in another way, where everything is sheltered and preserved 
for an other ascent. 

The stanzas and lines quoted $0 far bring us to a gathering, 
that is to say, they bring us to a site. Of what kind is this 
site? What shall we name it? Surely the name must fit the 
poet’s language. All that Georg I raki’s poetry says remains 
gathered and focused on the wandering stranger. He is, and 
is called, “he who is apart” (170). Through him and around 
him Trakl’s poetic saying is tuned to one unique song. And 
since this poet’s poems are gathered into the song of him who 
is apart, we shall call the site of Trakl’s poetic work apartness. 

And now, by a second step, our discussion must try to gain a 
clearer view of this site which so far has only been pointed out. 

II 

Is it possible to bring apartness itself before our mind’s 
eye, to contemplate it as the poem’s site? If at all, it can be 
done only if we now follow the stranger’s path with clearer 
eyes, and ask: Who is the departed one? What is the land- 
scape of his paths? 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



*73 



His paths run through the blue of night. The light that 
gives his steps their radiance is cool. The closing words of a 
poem devoted specifically to the “departed one” speak of “the 
lunar paths of the departed” (171). To us, departed also means 
deceased. But into what kind of death has the stranger died? 
In his poem “Psalm” (57), Trakl says: 

The madman has died 
The next stanza says: 

They bury the stranger. 

In the “Seven-Song of Death” he is called the “white stranger.” 

The last stanza of “Psalm” ends with this line: 

In his grave the white magician plays with his snakes. 

The dead one lives in his grave. He lives in his chamber, so 
quietly and lost in thought that he plays with his snakes. They 
cannot harm him. They have not been strangled, but their 
malice has been transformed. In the poem “The Accursed” 
(113), on the other hand, we find: 

A nest of scarlet-colored snakes rears up 
Lazily in her chumed-up lap. 

(Compare 155 and 157) 

The dead one is the madman. Does the word mean some- 
one who is mentally ill? Madness here does not mean a mind 
filled with senseless delusions. The madman’s mind senses— 
senses in fact as no one else does. Even so, he does not have 
the sense of the others. He is of another mind. The departed 
one is a man apart, a madman, because he has taken his way in 
another direction. From that other direction, his madness 
may be called “gentle,” for his mind pursues a greater still- 
ness. A poem that refers to the stranger simply as “he yonder,” 
the other one, sings: 

But the other descended the stone steps of the 
Monchsberg, 

A blue smile on his face and strangely ensheathed 

In his quieter childhood and died. 

This poem is called “To One who Died Young” (129). The 




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ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



departed died away early. That is why he is “the tender 
corpse” (99, 139, etc.), shrouded in that childhood which pre- 
serves in greater stillness all the burning and searing of the 
wilderness. He who died early thus appears as the “dark shape 
of coolness.” This shape also appear: in the poem entitled 
“On the Monchsberg” (107): 

The dark shape of coolness ever follows the 
wanderer 

Over the footbridge of bone, and the boy’s hyacinth 
voice, 

Softly reciting the forest’s forgotten legend . . . 

The “dark shape of coolness” does not follow behind the 
wanderer. It walks before him, because the boy’s blue voice 
retrieves something forgotten and fore-tells it. 

Who is this boy that died away early? Who is this boy to 
whom it is said 

. . . softly your forehead bleeds 
Ancient legends 

And dark augury of the flight of birds? (91) 

Who is he who has crossed over the bridge of bone? The poet 
calls to him with the words: 

O Elis, how long you have been dead. 

Elis is the stranger called to go under. He is in no way a 
figure by which Trakl means to represent himself. Elis is as 
essentially different from the poet I raki as Zarathustra’s figure 
is from the thinker Nict/sche. But both figures are alike in 
that their nature and their journey begins with a descent. 
Elis goes down into the primeval earliness that is older than 
the aged, decomposing kind of man, older because it is more 
mindful, more mindful because it is more still, more still 
because it has itself a greater power to still. 

The boyishness in the figure of the boy Elis does not consist 
in the opposite of girlishness. His boyishness is the appearance 
of his stiller childhood. 1 hat childhood shelters and stores 
within it the gentle two fold of sex, the youth and the “golden 
figure of the maiden” (172). 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



1 75 



Elis is not a dead who decays and ceases to be in the late- 
ness of a spent life. Elis is the dead whose being moves away 
into earliness. This stranger unfolds human nature forward 
into the beginning of w’hat is yet to be borne. This unborn 
element in the nature of mortals, which is quieter and hence 
more stilling, is what the poet calls the unborn. 

The stranger who has died away into earliness is the unborn 
one. The terms “something unborn” and “something strange” 
say the same. In the poem “Bright Spring” (21) there is this 
line: 



And the unborn tends to its own peace. 

It guards and watches over the stiller childhood for the coming 
awakening of mankind. Thus at rest, the early dead lives . The 
departed one is not dead in the sense of being spent. On the 
contrary. The departed looks forward into the blue of the 
ghostly night. The white eyelids that protect his vision gleam 
with the bridal adornment (133) that promises the gentler 
two-fold of humankind. 

Silent the myrtle blooms over his dead white eyelids. 

This line belongs in the same poem that says: 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. 

The two sentences stand close to each other. The “dead” is the 
departed, the stranger, the unborn. 

But still the “path of the unborn” leads “past gloomy towns, 
past lonely summers” (“Song of the Hours,” 95). His way leads 
past those things that will not receive him as a guest, past but 
already no longer through them. The departed one’s journey 
is lonely, too, of course— but that comes from the loneliness 
of “the nighting pond, the starry sky.” The madman crosses 
the pond not on a “black cloud” but in a golden boat. What 
about the gold? The poem “Corner by the Forest” (29) replies 
with the line: 



Gentle madness also often secs the golden, the true. 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



1 76 

The stranger’s path leads through the “ghostly years” whose 
days are everywhere turned toward the beginning and are 
ruled, set right, from there. The year of his soul is gathered 
into rightness. 

O how righteous, Elis, arc all your days 

sings the poem “Elis” (92) . This call is merely the echo of 
the other call, heard before: 

O Elis, how long you have been dead. 

The earliness into which the stranger has expired shelters 
the essential rightness of the unborn. This earliness is a time 
of its own kind, the time of the “ghostly years.” To one of his 
poems, Trakl gave the plain title “Year” (164). It begins: 
“Dark stillness of childhood.” The counterpart to that dark 
stillness is the brighter earliness— brighter because it is an even 
stiller and therefore other childhood— into which the departed 
has gone under. The last line of the same poem calls this stiller 
childhood the beginning: 

Golden eve of the beginning, dark patience of the end. 

Here, the end is not the sequel and fading echo of the begin- 
ning. The end— being the end of the decaying kind— precedes 
the beginning of the unborn kind. But the beginning, the 
earlier earliness, has already overtaken the end. 

That earliness preserves the original nature— a nature so far 
still veiled— of time. This nature will go on being impenetrable 
to the dominant mode of thinking as long as the Aristotelian 
concept of time, still standard everywhere, retains its currency. 
According to this concept, time— whether conceived mechani- 
cally or dynamically or in terms of atomic decay— is the dimen- 
sion of the quantitative 01 qualitative calculation of duration as 
a sequential progression. 

True time, however, is the arrival of that which has been. 
This is not what is past, but rather the gathering of essential 
being, which precedes all arrival in gathering itself into the 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



1?7 



shelter of what it was earlier, before the given moment. The 
end and accomplishment has its analogue in “dark patience.” 
Patience bears hidden things toward their truth. Its forbear- 
ance bears everything toward its descent down into the blue 
of the ghostly night. The beginning, on the other hand, corre- 
sponds to a seeing and minding which gleams golden because it 
is illuminated by “the golden, the true.” This gold and true 
is reflected in the starry pond of night when Elis on his journey 
opens his heart to the night (92) : 

A golden boat 

Sways, Elis, your heart against a lonely sky. 

The stranger’s boat tosses, playful rather than “timorously” 
(192) , like the boat of those descendants of earliness who still 
merely follow the stranger. Their boat does not yet reach the 
level of the pond's surface. It sinks. But where? Does it go under 
in decay? No. And into what does it sink? Into empty nothing- 
ness? Far from it. One of Trakl's last poems, “Lament” (192) , 
ends with the lines: 

Sister of stormy sadness, 

Look, a timorous boat goes down 
Under stars, 

The silent face of the night. 

What does this nocturnal silence hold that looks down out of 
the starlight? Where does this silence itself with its night be- 
long? To apartness. This apartness is more than merely the 
state in which the boy Elis lives, the state of being dead. 

The earliness of stiller childhood, the blue night, the 
stranger’s Flighting paths, the soul’s nocturnal wing-beat, even 
the twilight as the gateway to descent: all these belong to 
apartness. 

All these are gathered up into apartness, not afterward but 
such that apartness unfolds within their already established 
gathering. 

Twilight, night, the stranger’s years, his paths, all are called 
“ghostly” by the poet. The apartness is “ghostly.” This word— 
what does it mean? Its meaning and its use are very old. 




1 78 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

“Ghostly*' means what is by way of the spirit, stems from it 
and follows its nature. “Ghostly” means spiritual, but not in 
the narrow sense that ties the word to “spirituality,” the priestly 
orders or their church. To a superficial reader, even Trakl 
seems to use the word in this narrow sense, at least in the poem 
“In Hellbrunn” (183) , where it says: 

. . . Thus the oaks turn spiritually green, 

Above the dead’s forgotten paths. 

Earlier, the poet mentions “the shades of princes of the church, 
of noble women,” “the shades of those long dead” which seem 
to hover above the “pond of spring.” But the poet, who is here 
again singing “the blue lament of evening,” does not think of 
the clergy when he says “the oaks turn spiritually green.*’ He 
is thinking of that earliness of the long since dead which 
promises the “springtime of the soul.” The poem “Song of the 
Spirit” (16) , composed earlier, strikes the same theme, though 
in an even more veiled and searching manner. The spirit 
referred to in this strangely ambiguous ‘‘Song of the Spirit” 
finds clearer expression in the last stanza: 

Beggar there by ancient stone 
Seems expired in a prayer, 

Shepherd gently leaves the hill, 

In the grove an angel sings, 

Sings a song, 

Sings the children to t lie ir sleep. 

But, even though the word “spiritual” has no ecclesiastical 
overtones for the poet himself, he surely could have resorted 
to the phrase “of the spirit” to refer to what he has in mind, 
and speak of twilight of the spirit and night of the spirit. Why 
does he not do so? Because “of the spirit” means the opposite 
of material. This opposition posits a differentiation of two 
separate realms and, in Platonic-Western terms, states the gulf 
between the suprasensuous noeton and the sensuous aistheton. 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



>79 



“Of the spirit” so understood— it meanwhile has come to 
mean rational, intellectual, ideological— together with its oppo- 
sites belongs to the world view of the decaying kind of man. 
But the “dark journey” of the “blue soul” parts company with 
this kind. The twilight leading toward the night in which the 
strangeness goes under deserves as little to be called “of the 
spirit, intellectual” as does the stranger’s path. Apartness is 
spiritual, determined by the spirit, and ghostly, but it is not 
“of the spirit” in the sense of the language of metaphysics. 

What, then, is the spirit? In his last poem, “Grodek” (193) , 
Trakl speaks of the “hot flame of the spirit.” The spirit is flam- 
ing, and only in this sense perhaps is it something flickering in 
the air. Trakl sees spirit not primarily as pneuma , something 
ethereal, but as a flame that inflames, startles, horrifies, and 
shatters us. Flame is glowing lumination. What flame is the 
ek-stasis which lightens and calls forth radiance, but which may 
also go on consuming and reduce all to white ashes. 

“Flame is the palest pallor’s brother” runs a line in the poem 
“Transformation of Evil” (123) . Trakl sees spirit in terms of 
that being which is indicated in the original meaning of the 
word “ghost”— a being terrified, beside himself, ck-static. 

Spirit or ghost understood in this way has its being in the 
possibility of both gentleness ami destructiveness. Gentleness 
in no way dampens the ecstasy of the inflammatory, but holds 
it gathered in the peace of friendship. Destructiveness comes 
from unbridled license, which consumes itself in its own revolt 
and thus is active evil. Evil is always the evil of a ghostly spirit. 
Evil and its malice is not of a sensuous, material nature. Nor 
is it purely “of the spirit.” Evil is ghostly in that it is the revolt 
of a terror blazing away in blind delusion, which casts all 
things into unholy fragmentation and threatens to turn the 
calm, collected blossoming of gentleness to ashes. 

But where does the gathering power of gentleness reside? 
How is it bridled? What spirit holds its reins? In what way is 
human nature ghostly, and how does it become so:' 

Inasmuch as the nature of spirit consists in a bursting into 
flame, it strikes a new course, lights it, and sets man on the 




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ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



way. Being flame, the spirit is the storm that “storms the 
heavens” and “hunts down God” (180). The spirit chases, 
drives the soul to get underway to where it leads the way. The 
spirit carries it over into strangeness. “Something strange is the 
soul on the earth.” The soul is the gift of the spirit— the spirit 
animates. But the soul in turn guards the spirit, so essentially 
that without the soul the spirit can presumably never be spirit. 
The soul “feeds” the spirit. How? How else than by investing 
the spirit with the flame that is in the soul's very nature? This 
flame is the glow of melancholy, “the patience of the lonely 
soul” (51) . 

Solitude does not separate in the kind of dispersion to which 
all mere forsakenness is exposed. Solitude carries the soul 
toward the One and only, gathers it into the One, and so starts 
its being out on its journey. Solitary, the soul is a wanderer. 
The ardor of its core is charged to carry on its journey the 
burden of fate— and so to carry the soul toward the spirit. 

Lend your flame to the spirit, ardent and heavy heart; 

so begins the poem “To Lucifer,” in other words, the poem to 
the light-bearer who casts the shadow of evil (posthumous 
volume, Salzburg edition, p. 14). 

The soul's heavy heart glows only when the wandering soul 
enters into the farthest reaches of its essential being— its wander- 
ing nature. That happens when the soul looks toward the face 
of the blue and beholds its radiance. In that seeing it is “the 
great soul.” 

O pain, thou flaming vision 
Of the great soul! 

(Thunderstorm, 175) 

The soul’s greatness takes its measure from its capacity to 
achieve the flaming vision by which the soul becomes at home 
in pain. The nature of pain is in itself converse. 

“Flaming” pain tears away. Pain’s rending, sweeping force 
consigns the wandering soul into that conjunction of storm 
and hunt which would storm heaven and hunt down God. 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



1 8 1 



Thus it seems as though the stormy sweep were to overwhelm 
its goal, instead of letting it prevail within its veiling radiance. 

Yet this latter is within the power of the beholding “vision.” 
That vision does not quench the flaming sweep, but rejoins it 
to the fitting submission of seeing acceptance. It is that back- 
ward sweep in pain by which pain achieves its mildness, its 
power to disclose and convey. 

Spirit is flame. It glows and shines. Its shining takes place in 
the beholding look. To such a vision is given the advent of all 
that shines, where all that is, is present. This flaming vision is 
pain. Its nature remains impenetrable to any mind that under- 
stands pain in terms of sensitivity. Flaming vision determines 
the soul’s greatness. 

The spirit which bears the gift of the “great soul” is pain; 
pain is the animator. And the soul so gifted is the giver of life. 
This is why everything that is alive in the sense in which the 
soul is alive, is imbued with pain, the fundamental trait of 
the soul’s nature. Everything that is alive, is painful. 

Only a being that lives soulfully can fulfill the destiny of 
its nature. By virtue of this power it is fit to join in that har- 
mony of mutual bearing by which all living things belong 
together. In keeping with this relation of fitness, everything 
that lives is fit, that is to say, good. But the good is good 
painfully. 

Corresponding to the great soul’s fundamental trait, every- 
thing that has soul is not merely good painfully, but also it 
can be truthful only in that way; for, in virtue of the fact that 
pain is converse, the living can give sheltering concealment to 
their present fellowbeings and thus reveal them in their given 
nature, let them truly be what they are. 

The last stanza of one poem begins (22) : 

So painful good, so truthful is what lives; 

One might think that this line merely touches on what is pain- 
ful. In truth it introduces the saying of the entire stanza, 
which remains tuned to the silent conquest of pain. To hear 
it, we must not overlook the carefully placed punctuation. 




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ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



much less alter it. The stanza goes on: 

And softly touches you an ancient stone: 

Again this “softly" is sounded, which always leads us softly to 
the essential relations. Again the “stone" appears which, if 
calculation w r ere permitted here, could be counted in more 
than thirty places in Trakl's poetry. Pain conceals itself in the 
stone, the petrifying pain that delivers itself into the keeping 
of the impenetrable rock in whose appearance there shines 
forth its ancient origin out of the silent glow of the first dawn— 
the earliest dawn which, as the prior beginning, is coming 
toward everything that is becoming, and brings to it the ad- 
vent, never to be overtaken, of its essential being. 

The old stones are pain itself, for pain looks earthily upon 
mortals. The colon after the word “stone" signifies that now 
the stone is speaking. Pain itself has the word. Silent since long 
ago, it now says to the wanderers who follow the stranger 
nothing less than its own power and endurance: 

Truly! I shall forever be with you. 

The wanderers who listen toward the leafy branches for the 
early dead, reply to these words of pain with the words of the 
next line: 

O mouth! that trembles through the silvery willow. 

The whole stanza here corresponds to the close of another 
poem’s second stanza, addressed “To One Who Died Young” 

(129) : 

And the silver face of his friend stayed behind in the garden. 
Listening in the leaves or the ancient stones. 

The stanza which begins 

So painful good, so truthful is what lives: 

also resolves the chord struck in the first line of the same 
poem’s third section: 

How sick seems all that is becoming! 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 83 

The troubled, hampered, dismal, and diseased, all the distress 
of disintegrating, is in truth nothing else than the single 
semblance in which truth— truly— conceals itself: the all-pervad- 
ing, everlasting pain. Pain is thus neither repugnant nor prof- 
itable. Pain is the benignity in the nature of all essential being. 
The onefold simplicity of its converse nature determines all 
becoming out of concealed primal earliness, and attunes it to 
the bright serenity of the great soul. 

So painful good, so truthful is what lives. 

And softly touches you an ancient stone: 

Truly! I shall forever be with you. 

O mouth! that trembles through the silvery willow. 

The stanza is the pure song of pain, sung to complete the 
three-part poem called “Bright Spring” (21). The primal 
early brightness of all dawning being trembles out of the 
stillness of concealed pain. 

To our customary way of thinking, the converse nature of 
pain— that its sweep carries us truly onward only as it sweeps 
us back— may easily seem self-contradictory. But beneath this 
semblance is concealed the essential onefold simplicity of 
pain. Flaming, it carries farthest when it holds to itself most 
intimately in contemplating vision. 

Thus pain, the great soul’s fundamental trait, remains pure 
harmony with the holiness of the blue. For the blue shines 
upon the soul’s face by withdrawing into its own depth. 
Whenever it is present, the holy endures only by keeping 
within this withdrawal, and by turning vision toward the 
fitting. 

The nature of pain, its concealed relation to the blue, is 
put into words in the last stanza of a poem called “Trans- 
figuration” (137): 

Blue flower, 

That softly sounds in withered stone. 

The “blue flower” is the “gentle cornflower sheaf” of the 
ghostly night. The words sing of the wellspring from which 




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Trakl's poetry wells up. They conclude, and also carry, the 
“tranfiguration.” The song is lyric, tragedy, and epic all in 
one. This poem is unique among them all, because in it the 
breadth of vision, the depth of thought, and the simplicity of 
saying shine intimate and everlasting, ineffably. 

Pain is truly pain only when it serves the flame of the spirit. 
Trakl’s last poem is called “Grodek.” It has been much praised 
as a war poem. But it is infinitely more, because it is something 
other. Its final lines (193) are: 

Today a great pain feeds the hot flame of the spirit, 

The grandsons yet unborn. 

These “grandsons” are not the unbegotten sons of the sons 
killed in battle, the progeny of the decaying generation. If 
that were all, merely an end to the procreation of earlier 
generations, our poet would have to rejoice over such an end. 
But he grieves, though with a “prouder grief” that flamingly 
contemplates the peace of the unborn. 

The unborn are called grandsons because they cannot be 
sons, that is, they cannot be the immediate descendants of 
the generation that has gone to ruin. Another generation lives 
between these two. It is other, for it is of another kind in keep- 
ing with its different essential origin in the earliness of what 
is still unborn. The “mighty pain” is the beholding vision 
whose flames envelop everything, and which looks ahead into 
the still-withdrawing earliness of yonder dead one toward 
whom the “ghosts” of early victims have died. 

But who guards this mighty pain, that it may feed the hot 
flame of the spirit? Whatever is akin to this spirit is of the 
kind that starts man on the way. Whatever is akin to this 
spirit is called “ghostly.” And thus the poet must call “ghostly” 
the twilight, the night, and the years— these above all and 
these alone. The twilight makes the blue of night to rise, 
inflames it. Night flames as the shining mirror of the starry 
pond. The year inflames by starting the sun’s course on its 
way, its risings and its settings. 

What spirit is it from which this “ghostliness” awakens and 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 85 

which it follows? It is the spirit which in the poem “To One 
Who Died Young” (129) is specifically called “the spirit of an 
early dead.” It is the spirit which abandons that “beggar” of 
the “Spiritual Song” (16) to his apartness, so that he, as the 
]>oem “In the Village” (75) says, remains “the poor one,” “who 
died lonesome in spirit.” 

Apartness is active as pure spirit. It is the radiance of the 
blue reposing in the spirit’s depth and flaming in greater 
stillness, the blue that kindles a stiller childhood into the gold 
of the first beginning. This is the earliness toward which Elis* 
golden countenance is turned. In its countering glance, it keeps 
alive the nocturnal flame of the spirit of apartness. 

Apartness, then, is neither merely the state of him w'ho died 
young, nor the indeterminate realm of his abode. In the way 
in which it flames, apartness itself is the spirit and thus the 
gathering power. That power carries mortal nature back to its 
stiller childhood, and shelters that childhood as the kind, not 
yet borne to term, whose stamp marks future generations. The 
gathering power of apartness holds the unborn generation 
beyond all that is spent, and saves it for a coming rebirth of 
mankind out of earliness. The gathering power, spirit of 
gentleness, stills also the spirit of evil. That spirit’s revolt 
rises to its utmost malice w ? hen it breaks out even from the 
discord of the sexes, and invades the realm of brother and 
sister. 

But in the stiller onefold simplicity of childhood is hidden 
also the kindred twofoldness of mankind. In apartness, the 
spirit of evil is neither destroyed and denied, nor set free and 
affirmed. Evil is transformed. To endure such a “transforma- 
tion,” the soul must turn to the greatness of its nature. The 
spirit of apartness determines how great this greatness is. 
Apartness is the gathering through which human nature is 
sheltered once again in its stiller childhood, and that child- 
hood in turn is sheltered in the earliness of another begin- 
ning. As a gathering, apartness is in the nature of a site. 

But in what wav, now, is apartness the site of a poetic work, 
specifically that poetic statement to which Trakl's poetry gives 




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voice? Is apartness at all and intrinsically related to poetry? 
Even if such a relation exists, how is apartness to gather 
poetic saying to itself, to become its site, and to determine it 
from there? 

Is apartness not one single silence of stillness? How can it 
start a saying and a singing on its way? Yet apartness is not 
the desolation of the departed dead. In apartness, the stranger 
measures off the parting from mankind hitherto. He is under- 
way on a path. What sort of a path is it? The poet says it 
plainly enough, by pointedly setting apart the closing line of 
the poem “Summer’s Decline”; 

Would that the blue game were to recall his paths, 

The music of his ghostly years! 

The stranger's path is the “music of his ghostly years.” 
Elis’ footfall rings. The ringing footfall radiates through 
the night. Does its music die away into a void? He who died 
into earliness— is he departed in the sense of being cut off, or 
has he been set apart because he is one of the select— gathered 
up into an assembly that gathers more gently and calls more 
quietly? 

The second and third stanzas of the poem “To One Who 
Died Young” (129) hint at an answer: 

But he yonder descended the stone steps of the Monchsberg, 

A blue smile on his face, and strangely ensheathed 

In his stiller childhood, and died; 

And the silver face of his friend stayed behind in the garden, 

Listening in the leaves or the ancient stones. 

Soul sang of death, the green decay of the flesh. 

And it was the murmur of the forest, 

The fervid lament of the animals. 

Always from twilight towers rang the blue evening bells. 

A friend listens after the stranger. In listening, he follows 
the departed and thus becomes himself a wanderer, a stranger. 
The friend’s soul listens after the dead. The friend’s face has 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 1 87 

“died away” (136). It listens by singing of death. This is why 
the singing voice is “the birdvoice of the deathlike” ( The 
Wanderer , 136). It corresponds to the stranger's death, his 
going under to the blue of night. But as he sings the death 
of the departed, he also sings the “green decay” of that gen- 
eration from which his dark journey has “parted” him. 

To sing means to praise and to guard the object of praise 
in song. The listening friend is one of the “praising shep- 
herds” (136). Yet the friend’s soul, which “likes to listen 
to the white magician's fairy tales,” can give echo to the 
song of the departed only when that apartness rings out 
toward him who follows, when the music of apartness re- 
sounds, “when,” as it says in “Evensong” (77), “dark music 
haunts the soul.” 

If all this comes to pass, the spirit of the early dead appears 
in the glow of earliness. The ghostly years of earliness are 
the true time of the stranger and his friend. In their glow 
the formerly black cloud turns golden. Now it is like that 
“golden boat” which, Elis' heart, rocks in the solitary sky. 

The last stanza of “To One Who Died Young” (130) sings; 

Golden cloud and time. In a lonely room 
You often ask the dead to visit you, 

And walk in trusted converse under elms by the 
green stream. 

The friend's invitation to conversation reflects the haunting 
music of the stranger’s steps. The friend’s saying is the singing 
journey down by the stream, following down into the blue of 
the night that is animated by the spirit of the early dead. In 
such conversation the singing friend gazes upon the departed. 
By his gaze, in the converse look, he becomes brother to the 
stranger. Journeying with the stranger, the brother reaches 
the stiller abode in earliness. In the “Song of the Departed” 
(170), he can call out: 

O to dwell in the animate blue of night. 

Listening after the departed, the friend sings his song and 




1 88 ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

thus becomes his brother; only now, as the stranger’s brother, 
does he also become the brother of the stranger’s sister 
whose “lunar voice rings through the ghostly night,’’ as the 
last lines of “Ghostly Twilight" (131) say it. 

Apartness is the poem’s site because the music of the 
stranger’s ringing-radiant footfall inflames his followers’ dark 
wandering into listening song. The dark wandering, dark be- 
cause it merely follows after, nevertheless clears their souls 
toward the blue. Then the whole being of the singing soul 
is one single concentrated gaze ahead into the blue of night 
which holds that stiller earliness. 

Soul then is purely a blue moment 

is what the poem “Childhood" (98) says about it. 

Thus the nature of apartness is perfected. It is the perfect 
site of the poetic work only when, being both the gathering of 
the stiller childhood and the stranger’s grave, it gathers to 
itself also those who follow him who died early, by listening 
after him and carrying the music of his path over into the 
sounds of spoken language, so that they become men apart. 
Their song is poetry. How so? What is the poet’s work? 

The poet’s work means: to say after— to say again the 
music of the spirit of apartness that has been spoken to the 
poet. For the longest time— before it comes to be said, that is, 
spoken— the poet’s work is only a listening. Apartness first 
gathers the listening into its music, so that this music may ring 
through the spoken saying in which it will resound. The lunar 
coolness of the ghostly night’s holy blue rings and shines 
through all such gazing and saying. Its language becomes a 
saying-after, it becomes: poetry. Poetry’s spoken words shelter 
the poetic statement as that which by its essential nature 
remains unspoken. In this manner, the saying-after, thus 
called upon to listen, becomes “more pious," that is to say, 
more pliable to the promptings of the path on which the 
stranger walks ahead, out of the dark of childhood into the 
stiller, brighter earliness. The poet listening after him can 
thus say to himself: 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



189 



More pious now, you know the dark years’ meaning, 

Autumn and cool in solitary rooms; 

And in holier blue radiant footfalls ring. 

(Childhood, 98 ) 

The soul that sings of autumn and the year's decline is 
not sinking in decay. Its piety is kindled by the flame of the 
spirit of earliness, and therefore is fiery: 

O the soul that softly sang the song of the 
withered reeds; flaming piety. 

says the poem “Dream and Shroud of Night" (151). This 
shroud of night is not a mere darkening of the mind, no more 
than madness is dementedness. The night that shrouds the 
stranger's singing brother remains the “ghostly night" of that 
death by which the departed died into the “golden tremor" 
of earliness. Gazing after him, the listening friend looks out 
into the coolness of childhood's greater stillness. But such 
gazing remains a parting from that cast of man, long since 
bom, which has forgot the stiller childhood as the beginning 
that is still in store, and has never carried the unborn to full 
term. The poem “Anif" (128), named after a moated castle 
near Salzburg, says: 

Great is the guilt of the born. Woe, you golden tremor 

Of death, 

When the soul dreams cooler blossoms. 

But that “woe" of pain embraces not only the parting from 
the old kinship. This parting is in a hidden and fated way 
set apart, set to take the departure called for by apartness. 
The wandering in the night of apartness is “infinite tor- 
ment." This does not mean unending agony. The infinite 
is devoid of all finite restriction and stuntedness. The “in- 
finite torment" is consummate, perfect pain, pain that comes 
to the fullness of its nature. The simple oneness of pain's 
converse character comes into pure play only during the 
journey through the ghostly night, a journey that always 
takes its parting from the unghostly night. The spirit’s gentle- 




19° 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



ness is called to hunt down God, its shy reserve called to 
storm heaven. 

In the poem “The Night” (180), it says: 

Infinite torment, 

That you hunted down God 
Gentle spirit, 

Sighing in the cataract, 

In the waving fir trees. 

The flaming rapture of this storm and hunt does not tear 
“the steep-walled fortress” down; it does not lay the quarry 
low, but lets it arise to behold the sights of heaven whose 
pure coolness veils the Divine. The singing reflection of such 
wandering belongs to the brow of a head marked by con- 
summate pain. The poem “The Night” therefore closes with 
the lines: 

A petrified head 
Storms heaven. 

Correspondingly, the end of the poem “The Heart” (172) runs: 

The steep-walled fortress. 

O heart 

Shimmering away into snowy coolness. 

In fact, the triadic harmony of the three late poems “The 
Heart,” “The Storm,” and “The Night” is so subtly tuned 
to One and the Same singing of apartness that the discussion 
of the poetic work here attempted is further prompted 
simply to leave those three poems to resound in their song 
without intruding an elucidation. 

Wandering in apartness, beholding the sights of the in- 
visible, and consummate pain— they belong together. The 
patient one submits to pain's sweep. He alone is able to 
follow the return into the primal earliness of the generation 
whose fate is preserved in an old album in which the poet 
inscribes the following stanza called “In an Old Album” (51): 

Humbly the patient one bows to the pain 

Ringing with music and with soft madness. 

Look! the tw'ilight appears. 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



1 9 I 

In such soft and sweet-sounding saying the poet brings to 
radiance the luminous sights in which God conceals himself 
from the mad hunt. It is thus only “Whispered into the After- 
noon"' when, in a poem (50) by that title, the poet sings: 

God’s own colors dreams my brow, 

Feels the gentle wings of madness. 

The poet becomes poet only as he follows that “madman" 
who died away into the early dawn and who now from his 
apartness, by the music of his footfall, calls to the brother who 
follows him. Thus the friend's face looks into the face of 
the stranger. The radiance of the glancing moment moves the 
listener's saying. In the moving radiance that shines from the 
site of the poem surges the billow which starts the poetic 
vision on its way to language. 

Of what sort, then, is the language of Trakl's poetic work? 
It speaks by answering to that journey upon which the 
stranger is leading on ahead. The path he has taken leads 
away from the old degenerate generation. It escorts him to go 
under in the earliness of the unborn generation that is kept 
in store. The language of the poetry whose site is in apart- 
ness answers to the home-coming of unborn mankind into 
the quiet beginning of its stiller nature. 

The language that this poetry speaks stems from this tran- 
sition. Its path leads from the downfall of all that decays 
over to the descent into the twilit blue of the holy. The lan- 
guage that the work speaks stems from the passage across 
and through the ghostly night’s nocturnal pond. This lan- 
guage sings the song of the home-coming in apartness, the 
home-coming which from the lateness of decomposition comes 
to rest in the earliness of the stiller, and still impending, 
beginning. In this language there speaks the journey whose 
shining causes the radiant, ringing music of the departed 
stranger’s ghostly years to come forth. According to the words 
of the poem “Revelation and Descent’’ (186), the "Song of the 
Departed” sings of “the beauty of a homecoming generation.” 
Because the language of this poetry sj>eaks from the journey 




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of apartness, it will always speak also of what it leaves behind 
in parting, and of that to which the departure submits. This 
language is essentially ambiguous, in its own fashion. We shall 
hear nothing of what the poem says so long as we bring to 
it only this or that dull sense of unambiguous meaning. 

Twilight and night, descent and death, madness and wild 
game, pond and stone, bird's flight and boat, stranger and 
brother, ghost and God, and also the words of color— blue and 
green, white and black, red and silver, gold and dark— all say 
ever and again manifold things. 

“Green" is decay and bloom, “white" pale and pure, “black" 
is enclosing in gloom and darkly sheltering, “red" fleshy purple 
and gentle rose. “Silver" is the pallor of death and the sparkle 
of the stars. “Gold" is the glow of truth as well as “grisly 
laughter of gold" (127). These examples of multiple meanings 
are so far only two-sided. But their ambiguousness, taken as a 
whole, becomes but one side of a greater issue, whose other 
side is determined by the poetry’s innermost site. 

The poetic work speaks out of an ambiguous ambiguousness. 
Yet this multiple ambiguousness of the poetic saying does not 
scatter in vague equivocations. The ambiguous tone of Trakl’s 
poetry arises out of a gathering, that is, out of a unison which, 
meant for itself alone, always remains unsayable. The ambi- 
guity of this poetic saying is not lax imprecision, but rather the 
rigor of him who leaves what is as it is, who has entered into 
the “righteous vision" and now submits to it. 

It is often hard for us to draw a clear line between the 
ambiguous saying characteristic of Trakl's poems— which in 
his work shows complete assurance— and the language of other 
poets whose equivocations stem from the vagueness of groping 
poetic uncertainty, because their language lacks authentic 
poetry and its site. The peerless rigor of Trakl’s essentially 
ambiguous language is in a higher sense so unequivocal that 
it remains infinitely superior even to all the technical precision 
of concepts that are merely scientifically univocal. 

This same ambiguity of language that is determined by the 
site of Trakl’s poetic work also inspires his frequent use of 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



words from the world of biblical and ecclesiastical ideas. The 
passage from the old to the unborn generation leads through 
this region and its language. Whether Trakl’s poems speak in 
a Christian fashion, to what extent and in what sense, in what 
way Trakl was a “Christian,” what is meant here, and indeed 
generally, by “Christian,” “Christianity,” “Christendom” and 
“Christlike”: all this involves essential questions. But their dis- 
cussion hangs in a void so long as the site of his poetic work is 
not thoughtfully established. Besides, their discussion calls for 
a kind of thorough thinking to which neither the concept of a 
metaphysical nor those of a church-based theology are adequate. 

To judge the Christianity of Trakl's poetic work, one would 
have to give thought above all to his last two poems, “Lament” 
and “Grodek.” One would have to ask: If indeed this poet is 
so resolute a Christian, why does he not, here in the extreme 
agony of his last saying, call out to God and Christ? Why does 
he instead name the “sister’s swaying shadow” and call her 
“the greeting one”? Why does the song end with the name of 
the “unborn grandsons” and not with the confident hope of 
Christian redemption? Why does the sister appear also in the 
other late poem, “Lament” (192) ? Why is eternity called there 
“the icy wave”? Is this Christian thinking? It is not even 
Christian despair. 

But what does this “Lament” sing of? In these words, “Sister 
. . . Look . . . ,” does not an intimate ardent simplicity ring 
out, the simplicity of those who remain on the journey toward 
the “golden face of man,” despite the danger of the utter with- 
drawal of all wholeness? 

The rigorous unison of the many-voiced language in which 
Trakl’s poetry speaks— and this means also: is silent— corre- 
sponds to apartness as the site of his work. Merely to keep this 
site rightly in mind makes demands on our thinking. We 
hardly dare in closing to ask for the location of this site. 



When we took the first step in our discussion of Trakl’s poetic 
work, the poem “Autumn Soul” (118), in its second-to-last 




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stanza, gave us the final indication that apartness is the site of 
his poetry. That stanza speaks of those wanderers who follow 
the stranger’s path through the ghostly night in order that they 
may “dwell in its animate blue.’' 

Fish and game soon glide away. 

Soon blue soul and long dark journey 

Parted us from loved ones, others. 

An open region that holds the promise of a dwelling, and 
provides a dwelling, is what we call a “land.” The passage into 
the stranger’s land leads through ghostly twilight, in the eve- 
ning. This is why the last stanze runs: 

Evening changes image, sense. 

The land into which the early dead goes down is the land of 
this evening. The location of the site that gathers Trakl’s work 
into itself is the concealed nature of apartness, and is called 
“Evening Land,” the Occident. This land is older, which is to 
say, earlier and therefore more promising than the Platonic- 
Christian land, or indeed than a land conceived in terms of 
the European West. For apartness is the “first beginning” of a 
mounting world-year, not the abyss of decay. 

The evening land concealed in apartness is not going down: 
it stays and, as the land of descent into the ghostly night, 
awaits those who will dwell in it. The land of descent is the 
transition into the beginning of the dawn concealed within it. 

If we keep these thoughts in mind, we surely cannot then 
dismiss as mere coincidence the fact that two of Trakl’s poems 
speak explicitly of the land of evening. One bears the title 
“Evening Land” or “Occident” (1 65) the other is called “Occi- 
dental Song” (133) : it sings the same as does the “Song of the 
Departed,” and begins with a call that inclines in wonder: 

O the nocturnal wing-beat of the soul: 

The line ends with a colon that includes everything that fol- 
lows, even to the transition from descent into ascent. At that 
point in the poem, just before the last two lines, there is a 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



>95 



second colon. Then follows the simple phrase "One genera- 
tion." The word "One" is stressed. As far as I can see it is the 
only word so stressed in Trakl’s work. This emphatic "one 
generation" contains the key note in which Trakl's poetic 
work silently sounds the mystery. The unity of the one kinship 
arises from the race which, along "the lunar paths of the 
departed," gathers together and enfolds the discord of the 
generations into the gentler two-fold— which does so in virtue 
of its apartness, the stiller stillness reigning within it, in virtue 
of its "forest sagas," its "measure and law." 

The "one" in "one generation" does not mean one as opposed 
to two. Nor does it mean the monotony of dull equality. "One 
generation" here does not refer to a biological fact at all, to a 
"single" or "identical" gender. In the emphatic "one genera- 
tion" there is hidden that unifying force which unifies in virtue 
of the ghostly night's gathering blue. The word speaks from the 
song which sings of evening. Accordingly, the word "genera- 
tion" here retains the full manifold meaning mentioned earlier. 
For one thing, it names the historical generation of man, man- 
kind as distinct from all other living beings (plants and 
animals) . Next, the word "generation" names the races, tribes, 
clans, and families of mankind. At the same time, the word 
always refers to the twofoldness of the sexes. 

The force which marks the tribes of mankind as the simple 
oneness of "one generation," and thus restores them and man- 
kind itself to the stiller childhood, acts by prompting the soul 
to set out toward the "blue spring." The soul sings of the blue 
spring by keeping it silent. The poem "In the Dark" (144) 
begins: 

6 The soul keeps the blue spring in silence. 

"Keep silent" is here used transitively. Trakl’s poem sings of 
the land of evening. It is one single call that the right race may 
come to be, and to speak the flame of the spirit into gentleness. 
In the "Kaspar Hauser Song" (109) we read how God ad- 
dressed Kaspar Hauser: 

God spoke a gentle flame to his heart: 

O man! 




> 9 6 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



The “spoke,*’ too, is used transitively here, just as “keeps’* was 
above, or as “bleeds” in “To the Boy Elis” (91), or “murmurs” 
in the last line of “On the Monchsberg” (107) . 

God’s speaking is the speaking which assigns to man a stiller 
nature, and so calls on him to give that response by which man 
rises from what is authentic ruin up into earliness. The “eve- 
ning land” holds the rising of the dawn of the “one generation.” 

How shallow is our thinking if we regard the singer of the 
“Occidental Song” as the poet of decay. How incomplete and 
crude is our understanding if we insist on approaching Trakl’s 
other poem, “Evening Land” (165), always only in terms of 
its final third section, while stubbornly ignoring the center 
piece of the triptych together with its preparation in the first 
section. In “Evening Land” the Elis figure appears once again, 
whereas “Helian” and “Sebastian in Dream” are no longer 
mentioned in the last poems. The stranger’s footfalls resound. 
They resound in harmony with the “softly sounding spirit” of 
the ancient forest legend. The final section— where the “mighty 
cities/ stone on stone raised up/ in the plain I” are mentioned— 
is already overcome, absorbed into the middle section of this 
work. The cities already have their destiny. It is a destiny other 
than that which is spoken “beside the greening hill” where the 
“spring storm sings,” the hill which has its “just measure” 
(128) and is also called the “evening hill” (143) . It has been 
said that Trakl’s work is “profoundly unhistorical.” In this 
judgment, what is meant by history? If the word means no 
more than “chronicle,” the rehearsal of past events, then Trakl 
is indeed unhistorical. His poetry has no need of historical 
“objects.” Why not? Because his poetic work is historical in the 
highest sense. His poetry sings of the destiny which casts man- 
kind in its still withheld nature— that is to say, saves mankind. 

Trakl’s work sings the song of the soul, “something strange 
on the earth," which is only just about to gain the earth by its 
wandering, the earth that is the stiller home of the homecom- 
ing generation. 

Is this dreamy romanticism, at the fringe of the technically- 
economically oriented world of modern mass existence? Or— is 




LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 



>97 



it the clear knowledge of the “madman” who sees and senses 
other things than the reporters of the latest news who spend 
themselves chronicling the current happening, whose future is 
never more than a prolongation of today’s events, a future 
that is forever without the advent of a destiny which concerns 
man for once at the source of his being? 

The poet sees the soul, “something strange,” destined to 
follow a path that leads not to decay, but on the contrary to a 
going under. This going under yields and submits to the mighty 
death in which he who died early leads the way. The brother, 
singing, follows him in death. Following the stranger, the 
dying friend passes through the ghostly night of the years of 
apartness. His singing is the “Song of a Captured Blackbird,” 
a poem dedicated to L. v. Ficker. The blackbird is the bird 
that called Elis to go under. It is the birdvoice of the deathlike 
one. The bird is captured in the solitude of the golden foot- 
falls that correspond to the ride of the golden boat on which 
Elis’ heart crosses the blue night’s starry pond, and thus shows 
to the soul the course of its essential being. 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. 

The soul journeys toward the land of evening, which is per- 
vaded by the spirit of apartness and is, in keeping with that 
spirit, “ghostly.” 

All formulas are dangerous. They force whatever is said into 
the superficiality of instant opinion and are apt to corrupt our 
thinking. But they may also be of help, at least as a prompting 
and a starting point for sustained reflection. With these reserva- 
tions, we may venture this formulation: 

A discussion of the site of Georg Trakl’s poetic work shows 
him to be the poet of the yet concealed evening land. 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. 

The sentence occurs in the poem “Springtime of the Soul” 
(142 f.). The verse that leads over into that final stanza where 
the sentence belongs, runs: 

Mighty dying and the singing flame in the heart. 




ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



198 

There follows the rising of the song into the pure echo of the 
music of the ghostly years, through which the stranger wanders, 
the years which the brother follows who begins dwelling in 
the land of evening: 

Darker the waters flowed round the lovely games of 
the fishes. 

Hour of mourning and silent sight of the sun; 

Something strange is the soul on the earth. Ghostly 
the twilight 

Bluing over the mishewn forest, and a dark bell 
Long tolls in the village; they lead him to rest. 

Silent the myrtle blooms over his dead white eyelids. 

Softly murmur the waters in the declining afternoon, 

On the banks the green wilderness darkens, joy in the 
rosy wind; 

The gentle song of the brother by the evening hill. 




REFERENCES 

[The German volume Unterwegs zur Sprache here translated 
also contains an essay entitled Die Sprache (Language) which 
has here been omitted by arrangement with the author, and 
will be found in translation elsewhere in Martin Heidegger, 
Poetry , Language , Thought (Harper 8 c Row, 1971 ).] 

A DIALOGUE ON LANGUAGE 

The heretofore unpublished text originated in 1953/54, on 
the occasion of a visit by Professor Tezuka of the Imperial 
University, Tokyo. 

To counter widely circulated allegations, let it be stated 
here explicitly that the dedication of Being and Time men- 
tioned on page 16 of the Dialogue remained in Being and 
Time until its fourth edition of 1935. In 1941, when my 
publishers felt that the fifth edition might be endangered 
and that, indeed, the book might be suppressed, it was finally 
agreed, on the suggestion and at the desire of Niemeyer, that 
the dedication be omitted from the edition, on the condition 
imposed by me that the note to page 38 be retained— a note 
which in fact states the reason for that dedication, and which 
runs: "If the following investigation has taken any steps 
forward in disclosing the ‘things themselves’, the author must 
first of all thank E. Husserl, who, by providing his own 
incisive personal guidance and by freely turning over his 



1 99 




200 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 



unpublished investigations, familiarized the author with the 
most diverse areas of phenomenological research during his 
.student years in Freiburg” ( Being arid Tune, Harper 8c Row, 

a 9 6 2, p. 4 8 9 )- 

Concerning the "two fold” mentioned in the Dialogue , com- 
pare What Is Called Thinking? (Harper 8: Row, 1968) and 
Identity and Difference (Harper 8c Row, 1969). 

THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE 

The three lectures were delivered in the studium generale 
of the University of Freiburg i. Br. on the 4th and the 18th of 
December, 1957, and on February 7, 1958. 

THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

This lecture is part of a lecture series on the subject “Lan- 
guage” which was arranged, in January 1959, by the Bavarian 
Academy of the Fine Arts and the Academy of the Arts in 
Berlin. 

The text has been revised for publication and, in a few 
places, enlarged. It first appeared in print in the Fourth 
Series of Gestalt und Gedanke, 1959 (ed. Clemens Graf 
Podewils). 

WORDS 

The text in its present version was first delivered as a lecture, 
during a matinee celebration, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, 
under the title Dichten und Denken. Zu Stefan Georges 
Gedicht Das Wort. 

LANGUAGE IN THE POEM 

This essay first appeared in Merkur , 1953, No. 61, pp. 
226-258, under the title: George Trakl. Eine Erorterung seines 
Gedichtes. 




PHILOSOPHY 



ON THE WAY TO LANGUAGE 

Martin Heidegger 



In this volume Martin Heidegger confronts the philosophical problems 
of language and begins to unfold the meaning behind his famous and 
little understood phrase "Language is the House of Being." 

The "Dialogue on Language." between Heidegger and a Japanese 
friend, together with the four lectures that follow, present Heidegger’s 
central ideas on the origin, nature, and significance of language. These 
essays reveal how one of the most profound philosophers of our century 
relates language to his earlier and continuing preoccupation with the 
nature of Being and human being. 

On the Wiiy to l. cmg uage enables readers to understand how central 
language became to Heidegger’s analysis of the nature of Being. On the 
Way to Language demonstrates that an interest in the meaning of lan- 
guage is one of the strongest honds between analytic philosophy and 
Heidegger. It is an ideal source for studying his sustained interest in the 
problems and possibilities of human language and brilliantly under- 
scores the originality and range of his thinking. 

Martin Heidegger ( 1889-1976) is one of our century’s most important 
philosophers. 

Peter D. Hertz, who translated most of this volume, is professor of 
German at State University of New York at Oswego. 

Joan Stambaugb, who translated the chapter “Words,” is professor of 
philosophy at Hunter College in New York City. 



Cover by Rosalie Blazej 



HarperSanFrancisco 



USA $16.00 

CANADA $24.50 



ISBN 0-06-063859-1 



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